In Mali, the soldiers who seized power in a coup two weeks ago have agreed to step down as part of an agreement with the regional bloc ECOWAS. Under the accord, which includes amnesty for junta members, ECOWAS will lift harsh economic sanctions.
On a busy street in the Malian capital, Bamako, people gathered around a TV to hear coup leader Amadou Sanogo read the agreement that would transfer power immediately to interim civilian leaders and trigger an end to severe economic sanctions on the drought-stricken, landlocked country.
Sanogo says that because of the impossibility of organizing elections in 40 days as set out under the constitution, it is indispensable to organize a political transition with the aim of organizing free, democratic and transparent elections in all parts of the country.
Restoring order in Bamako is urgent for Mali and for the world, so the country and its international partners can get on with tackling the crisis in the north, now occupied by Tuareg rebels and Islamic militants. Aid agencies have been forced to suspend operations in the region, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced. Amnesty International said on Friday that northern Mali is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.
Tuareg separatist rebels Friday declared independence of the region they call Azawad, but the international community has been quick to reject the declaration outright.
Burkina Faso foreign affairs minister Djibril Bassolé, standing alongside coup leader Sanogo, said the main job of a new government led by a consensus prime minister would be to work on solutions for the north.
He says the mission of the consensus transitional government will be to urgently tackle the crisis in the north, either by reaching a negotiated peace pact, or - I hope not, he says - to go to war. He says Mali's fight will be our fight; all of ECOWAS will address the insecurity and we will not accept that Mali face permanent division and instability.
Bassolé, representing ECOWAS mediator President Blaise Compaoré, said the economic sanctions ECOWAS imposed would be lifted.
The agreement says that in accordance with Mali’s constitution, the head of parliament - currently Dioncounda Traoré - will become interim president. Traoré, who was in the running for a presidential election that was to have taken place end of April, is to lead the organization of elections.
Officials did not say when elections would be held.
When the junta on April 1 made a vague statement about restoring civilian rule, ECOWAS and most of Mali’s political class were unconvinced, criticizing the soldiers' reluctance to hand over power.
Coup leader Sanogo, in announcing the agreement, explained that the junta had needed more time but that its interest has always been the Malian people.
He says, we carried out this coup for the good of the people. We had demanded ECOWAS members to give us a bit of time for discussions in order to come to solutions. Not for the junta, he says, not for ECOWAS, but for the good of the Malian people.
Bamako resident Diallo Hamadoun, told VOA just after the announcement that the accord will come as relief to Malians.
He says the accord will have an impact not only on the economy but also on the very morale of Malians. He says people felt abandoned, even betrayed, by their West African neighbors when ECOWAS imposed sanctions.
Diallo says it is only right that ECOWAS join Mali in addressing the Islamist invasion of northern Mali, as no country in the region is immune to such an incursion.