Mali ministers held by junta go on hunger strike

Last Updated: Monday, March 26, 2012 - 11:11

Bamako: Mali`s Foreign Minister and 13 others being detained by the junta that took over Mali started a hunger strike on Sunday, the minister`s brother said.

Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga, the Foreign Minister in the government ousted on Wednesday, is being held along with others including the justice minister, the interior minister, the mayor of Bamako and a former prime minister, said Maiga`s brother, Tiegoum Boubeye Maiga.

"They started a hunger strike this morning to protest against their detention," he said on Sunday.

Soldiers in Mali led by a middle-ranking US-trained officer, Capt Amadou Sanogo, surrounded the presidential palace on Wednesday and took power overnight.

Sanogo`s ouster of President Amadou Toumani Toure just two months before he was to step down after presidential elections threatens the cause of democracy in a region prone to coups and jeopardizes Mali`s standing at the heart of the Western-backed fight against Africa`s thriving wing of al Qaeda.

The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank all have suspended aid because of the coup, and the African Union has suspended the country`s membership. The United States is considering suspending all but humanitarian aid.

Said Djinnit, the UN Secretary-General`s Special Representative for West Africa, said delegates from the West African bloc, known as ECOWAS, and from the African Union visited Bamako on Friday. The delegation met with members from the junta and reiterated the call by ECOWAS, the U.N. and the AU for an immediate return to constitutional order, Djinnit said Sunday.

But on Saturday, Sanogo reaffirmed his control.

"Right now I`m in control of all the country," the 39-year-old confidently told a news agency.

But Tuareg rebels have taken advantage of the power vacuum to advance to the gates of the strategic northern town of Kidal. Soldiers are deserting by the dozens while others are retreating without a fight amid disarray in the army command, a senior rebel commander told the agency on Thursday.

Sanogo says he acted Wednesday to avert a national security crisis because the government was not providing the arms and ammunition needed to fight the rebels, who have killed scores of soldiers.

Djinnit said Sunday that the ECOWAS and AU delegation also insisted the security of President Toure and those held by the junta be guaranteed. Toure`s whereabouts are currently unknown.

This week`s coup represents a major setback for the nation of 15.4 million at the bottom of the Sahara desert. Although Toure initially took power in a 1991 coup, he became known as the "Soldier of Democracy" because he handed power to civilians, and retreated from public life. Years later he re-emerged to win the 2002 election and was re-elected in 2007.

A dozen candidates were due to run in the first round of presidential elections on April 29, which is now in jeopardy.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, March 26, 2012 - 11:11

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