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Mali coup leader Goita sworn in as interim president

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian military junta, attends the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) consultative meeting in Accra, Ghana, on September 15, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

Mali's military strongman Assimi Goita has been formally sworn into office as the new interim president, as his second military coup in nine months has elicited a chorus of condemnation in the West African country.

“I swear before God and the Malian people to preserve the republican regime … to preserve democratic gains,” the 38-year-old special forces commander said on Monday after being inaugurated at a ceremony in the capital Bamako.

Goita appointed leader of the opposition coalition M5-RFP and former minister Choguel Kokala Maiga as prime minister within hours.

He also pledged to support a transition toward democratic elections.

"The situation offers us the opportunity to put the process of transition back in the direction desired by the people," Goita said, adding that he was committed to implementing "the actions necessary for the success of the transition, notably the organization of credible, fair and transparent elections that are held as scheduled."

The development comes as the constitutional court had already declared Goita the new interim president just days earlier.

Goita led a military coup last August. He overthrew the nation’s elected president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita over alleged corruption.

He became interim vice president after leading the coup. The junta installed Bah Ndaw as interim president at the time, but made concessions to Mali's neighbors demanding safeguards for a return to civilian rule.

Goita ordered the arrests of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane last month while serving as vice president, for not informing him about the details of a cabinet reshuffle, which he alleged violated the transitional charter.

Both resigned while still in detention. They were later released.

Goita's appointment as the interim president raised concerns among West African leaders, who decided at a summit last Sunday to suspend Mali from participation in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The 15-nation bloc stopped short of imposing sanctions, but pushed for Mali's transition to civilian rule under a previously agreed timetable.

The military has pledged to hold elections in early 2022.

Last month, the military said it would continue to respect that timetable, but added that it could be subject to change. Mali’s neighbors and international powers raised concerns that the latest coup will jeopardize a commitment.

The United States and France have both threatened sanctions against Mali — one of the world's poorest countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that Paris "could not stay by the side of a country where there is no longer democratic legitimacy or a transition.”

The president also said he would pull its troops out of Mali. France has around 5,100 troops in Mali under a military mission, known as the Barkhane force.

It began operating in the African nation in 2013 allegedly to counter militants that Paris claims are linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh terrorist groups.

Observers have, however, cited suspicions about Paris's other intentions in its former colony, which boasts rich mineral reserves.

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