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‘It has just started’: Mali junta hails change of power after forcing president Keita to resign

The military junta that ousted Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said he resigned in a “constitutional way”, denying any coup.

“As far as I know, the constitutional order is still in place”, said on Thursday Ismaël Wagué, spokesman for the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, adding that Keita dissolved parliament and resigned as “part of his prerogative as head of state”.

“We found ourselves in a situation where we could do something and we did something for our country. It’s not over yet, it has just started”, he said.

The junta behind Tuesday’s military takeover said that the 75-year-old former president was only being held at an army barracks for his own protection.

Keita was last seen late on Tuesday on state broadcaster ORTM, where he announced his immediate resignation and the dissolution of his government and the National Assembly.

His speech came just hours after soldiers had surrounded his house and fired shots into the air before detaining him and the prime minister.

West African leaders escalated pressure on Mali’s ruling junta, calling on them to allow President Keita to return to power.

Heads of state from the regional bloc of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Thursday called for the mobilising of a standby regional military force, stating that Keita must be allowed to serve out the three years left in his term after this week’s “coup attempt.”

They said that they held the junta responsible for his safety and all other detained government officials, adding they’d soon send a delegation to Bamako to try to help restore constitutional order.

ECOWAS previously invoked the potential use of its standby military force in 2017 after the then-Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refused to acknowledge his election defeat.

Jammeh ultimately agreed to go into exile and no military action was taken.

The bloc already had suspended Mali’s membership, closed its borders with the country and promised other financial sanctions against the junta leaders.

The UN and France also urged that Keita be released, amid fears that Islamic extremists could once again gain ground amid the political upheaval, derailing more than seven years of effort to stabilise the country.

French, the UN and West African partners have been trying to stabilise Mali after a similar 2012 coup created a power vacuum that allowed jihadists to seize control of northern towns until a French-led military operation the following year.

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