Ousted Mali President Escapes To Senegal; Prisoners Released

on April 20 2012 3:34 PM
Supporters of Mali's junta participate in a demonstration against regional bloc ECOWAS at the international airport of Bamako
Supporters of Mali's junta participate in a demonstration against regional bloc ECOWAS at the international airport of Bamako Reuters

The former president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, is now in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, officials said today. He was accompanied by 17 family members and political aides.

Toure first took refuge in the Senegalese embassy in the Malian capital of Bamako earlier this week, Senegal's president Macky Sall announced while in Paris on Wednesday. Toure has been in hiding since a military coup forced him from power on March 22.

A Senegalese presidential spokesman told Agence France Presse that Toure arrived at 11:30 p.m. local time on Thursday and is now being housed at a residence for visiting dignitaries. Foreign Minister Alioune Badara Cisse went to Bamako in the presidential plane to pick up the ex-President and his family, he said.

He was calm, Cisse added. He was with his entire family.

An anonymous military source told AFP that Toure left with the agreement of Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, who is the leader of the coup in Mali.

Toure formally resigned as Mali's president on April 8 in order to facilitate a transition to a civilian government, and it remains unknown how long Toure plans to remain in Senegal.

The announcement of Toure's exile comes with news that the Malian military junta released 22 political and military prisoners, most of whom were Toure allies, late Thursday. 

Many of the 22 individuals were rounded up in a wave of arrests that took place shortly after astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra was named as interim prime minister earlier this week. Former Prime Minister Modibo Sidi, the former defense minister, and the head of Toure's bodyguard regime, were among those in custody.

Everybody has been released, a source close to the junta leader told the AFP late Thursday. 

The arrests were seen as a move by the junta to prove its power, even after moving to establish a civilian interim government last week. Yet the releases have eased fears that the military will not cede total control to the government.

Elections have been promised, but no specific plans have been announced.

Souomalia Cisse, a former minister and leader of the West African Economic and Monetary Union, remains in hospital recovering from an injury he sustained during his arrest.

The chief of the military police force, Colonel Diamou Keita, said that those released could still be required to submit to questioning by authorities, however.

Coup leaders cited the Toure government's ineffectual response to a rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs who are now in control of the northern half of the country.

The Tuareg rebellion, calling itself the Azawad National Liberation Movement, took advantage of the coup and has since declared autonomy for the northern desert region, a move condemned by the international community.

Medicins Sans Frontieres, a medical charity, said Thursday there has been a large increase in the number of people fleeing the northern region into bordering Mauritania and asked for more aid, the BBC reported.

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