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Mali's junta leader to be veep in transition government

The head of Mali’s military junta said Monday he will serve as the vice president in a transitional government that is supposed to bring about a return to democracy more than a month after a coup.

The move is likely to be immediately rejected by the international community, which has called on Mali’s junta to restore civilian rule as soon as possible or face additional sanctions.

Col. Assimi Goita, the leader of the junta, made the announcement himself on Mali’s state television, ORTM, saying he had been chosen as vice president. He said that retired Maj. Col. Bah N’Daw has been named president of the transitional government, which is to be inaugurated on Sept. 25.

The 15-nation West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS has insisted that both president and vice president of the interim government must be civilians. Already the regional group has closed borders to Mali and stopped financial flows to the country in the wake of the coup. It was not immediately clear what additional actions ECOWAS may take following Monday's announcement.

While ECOWAS has shown some flexibility in agreeing to an 18-month time frame for holding new elections, the regional bloc has made clear that sanctions would only be lifted if a civilian president and vice president were named.

Mal’s political opposition staged weeks of public demonstrations against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita prior to his ouster in August. However, divisions between the opposition and the junta have begun to deepen, with the opposition condemning any attempt to have a military leader in the transitional government.

There has been widespread concern that the ongoing political upheaval in Mali will set back efforts to contain the country’s growing Islamic insurgency. After a similar coup in 2012, Islamic extremists grabbed control of major towns in northern Mali. Only a 2013 military intervention led by France pushed extremists out of those towns and the international community has spent seven years battling the militants.

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