Mali’s Interim President Takes Oath of Office

Nancy Palus

Mali has sworn in parliament speaker Dioncounda Traoré as its transitional president, launching the restoration of civilian rule after last month's coup d'état. In his inaugural speech, Traoré focused on northern Mali, saying the country is determined to recover regions occupied by rebels and Islamic militants, ideally by peaceful means but by all-out war if necessary.

Dioncounda Traoré, 70, took the oath of office Thursday before hundreds of dignitaries, including officials from the regional bloc ECOWAS, who helped broker a deal with the junta to restore civilian rule.

President Amadou Toumani Touré, ousted in a March 22 coup, formally resigned earlier this week, opening the way for installation of an interim president, in accordance with the Malian constitution.

Traoré’s first words as Malian leader were the names of northern cities and regions that have been taken over by Tuareg rebels and Islamic militants.

"Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, Timbuktu - occupied. Mali, a land of peace and dialogue, split in two," he said. "People in the north are victim to countless atrocities. Our secularism and our democracy threatened."

Since Tuareg separatists and Islamic militants took over northern Mali's three northern regions in early April, mass looting has left communities with nothing, and food and water are running out. Malians say abuses, including rapes, are rampant, and extremists are levying severe punishments in their bid to impose Islamic law.

The new president said he hopes the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad and Islamic group Ansar Dine will heed the call to leave peacefully. But he said if war is the only solution, Mali will wage war.

"We will not hesitate to mount a total and relentless war to recover our territorial integrity," he said. "But also, to kick out al-Qaida and drug traffickers who have been operating in the north for years, as well as hostage-takers that discredit our country and impede our development."

Traoré said Mali will wage war with its own army, with the support of the international community. He said the Malian army will fight and the people will be behind it until what he called “the final victory” - reclaiming the country’s territory and secularism.

He pledged that the new government will organize an election that will take place throughout all regions of one, united Mali.

Traoré, educated in France, Algeria and Russia, was one of several candidates for the presidential election that was to have taken place at the end of April. He said Mali should be putting its resources into development rather than war.

"I am aware that I am now president of a country at war, which must find peace again as soon as possible. I believe in this peace," said Traoré. "In Mali the only real war should be against a lack of education, against poverty, against a lack of access to healthcare and clean water, against corruption, against injustice."

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