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Mali prime minister forced to step down

Junta opposed his request for help with radicals

The political headquarters of Mali’s interim president was attacked by gunmen, who burned parts of the building.

JOE PENNEY/REUTERS

The political headquarters of Mali’s interim president was attacked by gunmen, who burned parts of the building.

NAIROBI — Mali’s prime minister was arrested and forced to resign Tuesday by soldiers who orchestrated a military coup in March, bringing fresh turmoil to a West African country struggling with the seizure of its north by Islamist militants linked to Al Qaeda.

The arrest of Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra late Monday as he was preparing to leave for Paris for medical treatment was followed a few hours later by his forced resignation, along with the dissolution of his entire government. A solemn-faced Diarra appeared on national television in the early hours of Tuesday.

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‘‘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,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s for this reason that I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day. . . . I apologize before the entire population of Mali.’’

His resignation comes as the United States, European countries, and regional powers are readying a military force to intervene in Mali’s north, where radical Islamists have created a jihadist haven for Al Qaeda militants and other extremists. Regional countries have proposed a 3,300-strong force to retake the north, and the UN Security Council is currently weighing whether to approve the force.

But Tuesday’s political upheaval is likely to slow down plans for such a military strike. Both US and UN officials have cautioned that any such intervention should take place after Mali restores constitutional rule and holds democratic elections.

That seems further away now. The junta’s actions underscore how much it remains in control over the political fortunes of Mali, a vast landlocked nation with large reserves of gold and a predominantly Muslim population.

The army’s spokesman, Bacary Mariko, claimed that Diarra was ‘‘not getting along’’ with the leader of the March coup, Captain Amadou Sanogo. ‘‘It’s the reason why Mali’s army has taken things into their own hands and told Cheikh Modibo Diarra to resign for the good of Mali,’’ Mariko told the Associated Press.

‘I, Cheick Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day.’

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Soldiers arrested Diarra in his home and took him to a military camp at Kati, on the outskirts of Bamako, where he was ordered to step down. In recent weeks, Diarra was at odds with Sanogo over military intervention to liberate northern Mali. While Diarra actively sought international help for such an effort, Sanogo believed that Mali’s military, despite being divided and in disarray, could mount a military strike on its own.

Diarra’s resignation followed a protest he organized last weekend that demanded UN-backed military intervention in northern Mali.

Taking advantage of the military coup and subsequent power vacuum in Bamako, the Islamists overran a large swath of northern Mali in March, joining forces with secular Tuareg separatists to seize major towns and effectively divide the nation in two. Then, the Islamists, linked with Al Qaeda militants, pushed out the Tuareg separatists and imposed harsh Islamic sharia law across the north.

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