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Mali junta says it has released ousted president

Mali’s new military rulers said Thursday that former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was detained during the country’s coup on August 18, had been freed.

The announcement came on the eve of a summit by Mali’s neighbours, who are to decide whether to ratchet up pressure on the fledgeling junta.

Keita’s ouster by rebel troops sent shockwaves through the region and in France, which sees Mali as a linchpin in its campaign against jihadism in the Sahel, where more than 5,000 French troops are based.

“President IBK is free in his movements, he’s at home,” a spokesman for the junta, Djibrila Maiga, told AFP, referring to Keita by his initials, as many Malians do.

The junta, calling itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), said on Facebook it was “informing public and international opinion that former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been released and is currently in his residence”.

A Keita relative, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 75-year-old former leader had returned overnight to his house in the Sebenikoro district of the capital Bamako.

The source did not say whether he was still subject to any restrictions.

Keita, prime minister Boubou Cisse and other senior officials were seized by young officers who mutinied at a base near Bamako.

In the early hours of August 19, Keita appeared on national TV to announce his resignation, saying he had had no other choice and wanted to avoid “bloodshed”.

His release — and other leaders — is a key demand of Mali’s neighbours, its ally France and international organisations, including the African Union and European Union.

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, heading a team from the regional bloc ECOWAS, was given access to Keita last Saturday, and said he seemed “very fine.”

The announcement Thursday came on the eve of a virtual summit by the 15-nation ECOWAS — the Economic Community of West African States — which has imposed sanctions against Mali for the coup.

Those measures include a closure of borders and a ban on trade that threaten to worsen Mali’s already severe social and economic troubles.

Jonathan’s three-day mission to Bamako foundered on the question of the transition to civilian rule.

The junta have promised to enact a political transition and stage elections within a “reasonable time” but not spelt out details. 

Discussing progress with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, Jonathan said the coup leaders wanted to stay in power for a three-year transition period, an offer rejected by the mediators, according to a statement from the presidency.

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