West Africa leaders want Mali junta to leave power in a year

Assimi Goita

Representatives of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, left of table, including Col. Assimi Goita, center of row, who has declared himself the group’s leader, meet with a high-level delegation from the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, right of table, at the Ministry of Defense in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Top West African officials are arriving in Mali’s capital following a coup in the nation this week to meet with the junta leaders and the deposed president in efforts to negotiate a return to civilian rule. (AP Photo)

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BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — West African leaders on Friday urged Mali’s junta to take no more than one year to hand over power to a civilian government, as regional heads of state held another virtual summit after initial negotiations with the military coup leaders failed.

The junta calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People has met one of the regional bloc’s demands, releasing former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Thursday more than a week after his midnight resignation that followed the coup.

However, the junta has proposed waiting until 2023 to hold new elections, a condition immediately rejected by the 15-nation bloc known as ECOWAS.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who participated in the summit, urged the junta to heed the bloc’s calls.

“The people of Mali and the military leaders need to appreciate the fragility of their country and the imminent danger which it poses to the citizens of Mali as well as the ECOWAS sub-region,” he said in a statement.

After a similar coup in Mali in 2012, democratic elections took place within 18 months.

ECOWAS already has suspended Mali’s membership and halted financial flows to the country. Neighboring countries have shut their borders and other sanctions have been threatened in a bid to force the junta leaders to capitulate.

The regional group had suggested mobilizing a standby military force to restore civilian rule, a proposal now far less likely after thousands of Malians took to the streets to support the ouster of the elected president.

Nigeria’s president said Mali’s ruling junta must immediately release all other senior government officials still being detained.

African countries and others have expressed fear that Mali’s upheaval could allow Islamic extremists to extend their reach, undermining seven years of international efforts to stabilize the country following a French-led military operation in 2013 to drive jihadists from control of the major northern towns.

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