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Africa

France says Mali mission urgent after PM resigns

Former colonial power France was the first in Europe to react to the overnight arrest of Mali's prime minister by the military. The foreign ministry said it showed the need for "rapid deployment" of African Union troops.

France called for officials in Mali to reappoint a new government quickly on Tuesday, hours after the military arrested Prime Minister Cheick Mobido Diarra, who subsequently announced on state television channel ORTM that he was stepping down.

Mali's PM resigns after arrest

The French government said that the most recent developments showed the need to deploy African Union peacekeepers in the divided country - where two groups of rebels control around half the land mass.

"These developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot told reporters in Paris. "The old junta must stop its interventions into the country's political affairs."

Interim Prime Minister Diarra appeared on state television at 4 a.m. local time Tuesday to announce he was quitting his post.

"Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation, you are hoping for peace," Diarra said. "It's for this reason that I, Cheick Mobido Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government."

The soldiers who arrested Diarra said he was trying to leave the country.

"This is not a putsch," army colonel Diaran Kone later told the DPA news agency. "The former prime minister is in security. The new one will be known at the end of the day."

EU observing situation, preparing mission

In a separate military plan for Mali, the European Union announced on Monday that it would send some 250 soldiers to help train the country's armed forces as it sought to regain control of the north. Around half of Mali is currently occupied by a mixture of Tuareg rebels and Islamists with alleged ties to the North African branch of al Qaeda. The EU said on Tuesday that the developments in the capital Bamako had not yet changed this plan.

"Things continue, but of course we are watching the situation very carefully," said Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. "We hope that the military would stop interfering in political life and allow the transition process to a proper, credible democracy to go ahead."

Mann also said that Brussels was hoping to see a replacement government appointed "very soon."

"We have called often enough … for the rapid adoption of a roadmap for the restoration of constitutional rule and that there should be credible elections and legitimate institutions put in place," Mann said.

Malian soldiers, led by Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, seized power in Bamako in an earlier coup in March - saying they were reacting to the government's inability to fight the northern insurgency. Under international pressure, Diarra and interim President Dioncounda Traore were appointed to lead a government until elections could be organized in the divided country.

DPA also reported that Diarra's resignation had stemmed from tensions between himself, President Traore and Captain Sanogo, citing sources close to the president.

msh/dr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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