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Malians Denounce Arrests by Junta

Dioncounda Traore (L), the new interim leader talks with Cheick Mohamed Abdoulaye Souad, aka Modibo Diarra, new prime minister, in Koulouba. Mali's former junta arrested two more politicians as the new interim prime minister weighs the make-up of a unity

Malians are protesting the arrest of several leading political and military figures by the junta that is supposed to be stepping aside for civilian leaders. The junta -- still very prominent despite an ongoing process to restore civilian rule -- has yet to provide a precise reason for the arrests. A sit-in protest was held at the same hotel where the interim president is staying.

When officials with Mali’s interim leader Dioncounda Traoré came out to hear demonstrators, people shouted: “There is no more junta” and “There is just one president.”

Assembled outside the hotel where Traoré continues to stay since his April 12th inauguration, members of political parties' youth organizations shouted “Liberate, liberate” and held signs saying, “Military to the front lines, power to civilians.” Scores of soldiers and riot police stood nearby.

Malians say they are shocked and outraged at Tuesday’s pre-dawn arrests of at least seven people, including former prime ministers Modibo Sidibé and Soumaïla Cissé, deposed defense minister Sadio Gassama, as well as bank executives and the head of police.

They were seized at their homes by armed soldiers and reportedly taken to Kati, the garrison town outside Bamako and the junta’s headquarters since the March 22nd coup.

For some of the detained this is their second arrest since the coup. The junta recently released a number of ministers and others it had arrested the day it took power.

President Traoré’s chief of staff, Dicko Moustapha, told demonstrators he would deliver their declaration to the interim leader.

He says Traoré condemns the arrests. Naturally, he says, the president condemns anything that deviates from the rule of law.

Dicko said he doesn’t know the motivation behind the arrests.

The junta released a communiqué on Tuesday night, providing no precise reason for the detentions, and saying that the cases would be investigated by the proper authorities.

Malians denouncing the junta’s actions say these are not arrests but rather “kidnappings,” meant to create an atmosphere of terror and to intimidate political leaders as Mali charts a return to constitutional order.

On Tuesday, Mali named a consensus prime minister, 60-year-old NASA astronaut Cheikh Modibo Diarra. A framework agreement between the junta and the regional bloc ECOWAS calls for a return to civilian rule, but is vague on the future role of the junta. Coup leader Amadou Sanogo has said in public statements that he retains a role in overseeing the transition.

ECOWAS political director Abdel Fatau Musah told VOA the arrests are against the principles of the transition. He said the role of the junta would be discussed at a special ECOWAS meeting April 26.

Leaders of a political coalition that opposes the coup talked to reporters on Tuesday, after visiting Kati. They said they were not allowed to visit those detained. They said they are particularly concerned about Soumaïla Cissé, who was injured the night of his arrest.

Lawyer Hamidou Diabaté said the arrests make no sense whatsoever.

He says, now that the country is embarking on a return to constitutional order, the rule of law must stand. He says there are proper legal procedures for arrests and detentions, and that these extra-judicial arrests make no sense unless they are aimed at creating a climate of terror.

The coup leaders say they seized power because the government had not equipped the army to fight Tuareg rebels in the north. Since the coup, the rebels and Islamic militants have seized Mali's three northern regions and declared an independent state, which the international community has refused to recognize.

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