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Mali soldiers continue political arrests

BAMAKO, Mali - Soldiers arrested the head of one of Mali’s biggest political parties and officials from the country’s ousted government on Tuesday, deepening questions about whether the military is still in control even as a new civilian prime minister was appointed to the interim government.

Cheick Modibo Diarra, a former NASA scientist who served as Microsoft Corp.’s chairman for Africa until last year, is now tasked with organizing new elections in Mali after last month’s coup.

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His nomination as prime minister follows the swearing in of an interim president after the regional group ECOWAS pressured the junta leader, Captain Amadou Sanogo, into signing an accord to eventually restore civilian rule.

However, Sanogo has made clear in numerous statements since the agreement that he intends to continue to play an important role in Malian politics, especially after the 40-day period the interim president has in office under the terms of the constitution.

On Tuesday, soldiers detained a number of senior politicians and military officials, including many prominent in the government that was toppled last month by the junta. The European Union delegation in Mali issued a statement expressing concern about the arrests and calling for “an urgent clarification and their immediate release.’’

“As soon as I heard I contacted Captain Sanogo to tell him that’s not the sort of thing that should happen in a country where there is the rule of law, and that he should take measures so that those who have been detained know first of all why they have been detained and that they should possibly be released,’’ interim President Dioncounda Traore said.

“He promised me to look into the matter today,’’ Traore said.

Among the detainees are a former prime minister, the general in charge of former president Amadou Toumani Toure’s personal protection, and the country’s former defense minister.

The president of one of Mali’s biggest parties was also arrested. Soumaila Cisse was one of the front-runners for the presidential election set for April 29 that was derailed by the coup.

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