Bamako, Dec 11: Mali's Prime Minister announced his resignation on state television early Tuesday, hours after soldiers who led a recent coup burst into his home and arrested him, in the latest sign of the volatile political situation in this once-stable nation in West Africa.
Prime Minister Sheikh Modibo Diarra addressed the nation, saying: “Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace.
“It's for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. I apologise before the entire population of Mali,” he said.
Mr. Diarra appeared on TV at 4 a.m. local time dressed in a dark suit, his forehead glistening with sweat, his expression somber.
A police officer and an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press confirmed that the 60-year-old Mr. Diarra had been arrested at his private residence at around 10 p.m. on Monday by soldiers loyal to Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, the leader of the country's recent coup.
Mr. Diarra was getting ready to leave the country for Paris and the plane that was due to take him was already taxiing at the airport. It's unclear if the trip to France was planned, or if Mr. Diarra had gotten wind of the pending arrest and was trying to flee.
The security officials said the Prime Minister was forced into a car and driven to the Kati military camp, the sprawling military base where the March 21 coup was launched under the orders of Sanogo. For several weeks, tension has been mounting between the officers who led the coup and Diarra, the civilian prime minister they were forced to appoint when they handed back power to a transitional government.
The police officer, who was on duty Monday night at Bamako's international airport preparing for Mr. Diarra's departure for Paris, said group linked to the junta stormed the airport. “The plane that was to take the prime minister to France was on the point of departure,” said the officer.
“It was stopped by people from the group Yerewoloton who invaded the airport. The people from Yerewoloton are still at the airport as we speak, searching cars.”
Yerewoloton is a violent citizen's movement, which is believed to be backed by the junta. In May, they broke through the security cordon at the presidential palace.
Once inside, they beat up the newly appointed interim President, 70-year-old Dioncounda Traore. The beating of Traore brought immediate international condemnation and it was after the May 21 incident that coup leader Capt. Sanogo was forced to retreat from public life.
He has kept a low profile in recent months, emerging only occasionally to criticize a military plan by the nations neighboring Mali, which want to send 3,300 troops to take back Mali's north from armed Islamist groups.
Mr. Diarra, an astrophysicist who previously led one of NASA's Mars exploration programmes, was initially seen as in step with Capt. Sanogo. Critics lambasted him for frequently driving to the Kati barracks to see the coup leader, apparently to seek his advice long after Cpt. Sanogo was supposed to have handed power to civilians.
In recent weeks though, Mr. Diarra has appeared to be taking stances that sometimes conflict with Capt. Sanogo.
Last weekend for example, Mr. Diarra helped organised a demonstration calling for a United Nations-backed military intervention to take back Mali's north, which fell to Islamic extremists in the chaos following the coup.
On Monday at the United Nations, France circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the deployment of an African-led force to oust al-Qaeda-linked militants who seized Mali's northern half. The United States, however, wants the troops to be trained first for desert warfare, U.N. diplomats said.