Mali's new PM unveils unity government

Mali's former premier Cheick Modibo Diarra (Center L) prays alongside his successor and replacement Prime Minister Diango Cissoko (Center R) during a ceremony dedicated to the official handover of power between the two, in Bamako, on December 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO / HABIB KOUYATE

BAMAKO: Mali's newly appointed prime minister has unveiled a unity government with representatives from all regions, including the Islamist-controlled north, but the leaders of the March coup that divided the country maintain a strong influence.

After four days of talks, Prime Minister Diango Cissoko, named his new "representative" government late Saturday, as had been demanded by the international community irked over the forced departure of his predecessor Cheick Modibo Diarra on December 11.

Diarra had quit under pressure from former putschists led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who handed power to a transitional government in April but retained a strong say in Mali's politics. Military figures viewed Diarra as an "obstacle" to reaching consensus.

But Diarra was also a staunch advocate of French-backed plans to send in a West African intervention force to drive out extremists in the north who have imposed a brutal interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Such foreign intervention is fiercely opposed by Sanogo.

In the new line-up three key ministers -- Economy Minister Tienan Coulibaly, Defence Minister Colonel Yamoussa Camara and Foreign Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly -- will keep their jobs, while all of Mali's political groups will be represented.

"The goal wasn't to destabilise the government's architecture. Most of the more important ministers won't change jobs so as not to break up the group dynamic that was starting to form," an aide close to interim president Dioncounda Traore told AFP.

Camara was close to coup figures, whose preferred candidates retained three other posts including homeland security and justice.

The new prime minister, who upon his nomination had called on all Malians to "come together", said he was committed to giving more weight to the three regions of northern Mali that are held by armed Islamist groups.

Representatives from those regions now hold four out of 30 ministerial posts, three more than they did before. But the positions, including tourism minister, are not very influential.

Still, their presence in the government could enable further dialogue that began this month in neighbouring Burkina Faso between homegrown rebels the Tuareg Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA) and Islamist group Ansar Dine.

Coulibaly took part in the talks, mediated by the West African bloc ECOWAS.

"It's a good team. . . . It's important to note it's made up of men and women from all the geographic zones of Mali," Bamako resident Moussa Keita said Sunday.

"We have a team that should be able to put the country back on track. There's hope, real hope," said Bachir Diallo from the anti-coup Front for Democracy and the Republic (FDR).

Coup supporter Nouhoun Cisse from the COPAM party said the government must be "judged on its actions. It's obvious that won't be easy in the current situation, but the most important thing is to be patriotic."

The appointment of a new government comes as Mali awaits the expected go-ahead from the UN Security Council for an international African force of 3,300 troops to reconquer the north.

In Abidjan on Saturday, military leaders from ECOWAS countries refined their plans.





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