Mali’s interim vice president, Colonel Assimi Goita has said that he seized power after the transitional president and prime minister failed to consult him about the formation of a new government.
“This kind of step testifies to the clear desire of the transitional president and prime minister to seek to breach the transitional charter,” he said on Tuesday, describing the pair’s actions as a “demonstrable intent to sabotage the transition”.
President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested and taken to a military base outside the capital on Monday, prompting swift condemnation from international powers, some of which called it an “attempted coup”.
The two men were in charge of a transitional government created after a military coup in August that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. They were tasked with overseeing a return to democratic elections.
Goita, who led the August coup, orchestrated the arrests after two fellow coup leaders were dropped from their government posts in a cabinet reshuffle on Monday.
In a statement read by an aide on national television, Goita said elections next year to restore an elected government would go ahead as planned.
“The vice president of the transition saw himself obligated to act to preserve the transitional charter and defend the republic,” the statement said.
There are concerns the situation could worsen instability in the West African country, where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) control large areas of the north and centre, and stage frequent attacks on the army and civilians.
The United Nations, European Union and regional countries have all condemned the military’s actions and demanded the immediate release of the arrested leaders.
France condemned “violent” act of Goita “with the greatest firmness”.
“We demand the liberation” of the two leaders, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
“Their safety must be guaranteed, as must the immediate resumption of the agreed transition process,” Le Drian added.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted a call for calm, and urged the leaders’ “unconditional release”.
African Union head Felix Tshisekedi, who is also the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, echoed the call, saying he “strongly condemned any action that aims to destabilise Mali”.
A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was expected to visit Mali on Tuesday.