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The United Nations has joined global condemnation of the military takeover in Mali,  that forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta to resign. UN’s Security Council echoed similar calls by regional bodies for the immediate release of all government officials and the restoration of constitutional order.

The soldiers said they acted to prevent the country from falling into further chaos. They said they will conduct a new election to bring back civilian rule. Mali is a vast country stretching into the Sahara Desert, it is among the poorest in the world and has experienced four military takeovers. The is currently battling to contain a wave of jihadist attacks and ethnic violence.

President Ibrahim Bubakar Keïta won a second term of office in the 2018 presidential election, but since June has faced huge street protests over corruption, mismanagement of the economy and a disputed legislative elections.There has also been anger among troops about pay and the conflict with jihadists.

The African Union earlier suspended Mali saying military saying that coups were “something of the past which we cannot accept anymore”.”Whenever you have a crisis and the military people have a coup and say ‘we are responding to the will of the people’, this way of responding is not acceptable at all,” the AU’s Commissioner for Peace and Security, Smail Chergui, told the press.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has also taken swift action against Mali – closing borders, suspending financial flows and ejecting it from decision-making bodies. It is currently holding a virtual conference to decide what further action to take.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his condemnation. While French President Emanuel Macron has also demanded for a return to civilian rule saying “the fight against terrorist groups and the defense of democracy and the rule of law are inseparable”. France, Mali’s former colonial ruler, has several thousand troops based in Mali fighting Islamist militant groups and its Minister of Armed Forces  Florence Parly tweeted that this operation would continue. Various jihadist groups, some linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, are based in the deserts of northern Mali, from where they have spread to neighboring countries, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.

Who are the coup leaders?

Colonel Assimi Goita has presented himself as leader of the new military junta, which is calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) but little is known about him. Col Goita, said to be the head of Mali’s Special Forces, met senior civil servants earlier on Wednesday and told them: “We have no political ambitions, we are soldiers, and our objective is to rapidly transfer power. The state will continue, we assure you of our support in order to work in tranquility, we want to reassure you,” the Malian newspaper Journal du Mali reports. Other members of the junta identified in the report include Col Malick Diaw, CNSP vice-president, and Col Ismaël Wagué, the air force deputy chief of staff, who had earlier read a statement on behalf of the group.

What does the opposition say?

One of the parties in the M5 opposition coalition, CMAS, said it would support the coup leader in “developing a roadmap” towards new elections and called for rallies on Friday “to celebrate the Malian people’s victory“. After meeting the coup leaders, the head of Mali’s opposition M5 movement, conservative Imam Mahmoud Dicko, announced he would be withdrawing from politics. No reasons were given. Mr Dicko was one of the key figures in the huge street protests calling for IBK to resign.

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