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Mali's president, prime minister arrested by mutinous soldiers

Mutinous soldiers arrested Mali's transitional president and prime minister on Monday, hours after a government reshuffle left out two members of the junta that seized power in a coup nine months earlier in the West African nation, the African Union and the United Nations said.

Developments raise alarm about prospect of organizing democratic elections

Malian President Bah N'Daw, pictured in Paris last week, was reportedly arrested by mutinous soldiers on Monday along with Prime Minister Moctar Ouane. (Ian Langsdon/Reuters)

Mutinous soldiers arrested Mali's transitional president and prime minister on Monday, hours after a government reshuffle left out two members of the junta that seized power in a coup nine months earlier in the West African nation, the African Union and the United Nations said.

A joint statement issued along with the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS and other members of the international community called for the immediate release of President Bah N'Daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, who were taken to the military headquarters in Kati.

Those who signed on to the joint statement called for Mali's political transition "to resume its course and conclude within the established timeframe."

"The international community rejects in advance any act of coercion, including forced resignations," the statement said. "They emphasize that the ill-considered action taken today carries the risk of weakening the mobilization of the international community in support of Mali."

The developments raised new alarm about whether the transitional government would be able to move ahead freely with plans to organize new democratic elections as promised by next February in Mali, where the UN is spending $1.2 billion US a year on a peacekeeping mission.

N'Daw and Ouane were sworn in last September after the ruling military junta agreed to hand over power to a civilian transitional government under growing international pressure.

The junta had grabbed power a month earlier after mutinous soldiers encircled the home of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and fired shots into the air. He later resigned on national television under duress, saying he did not want blood to be shed in order for him to stay in office.

The soldiers then went on state television hours later calling themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People and promising a swift return to civilian rule. However, Monday's developments appeared to throw that promise into question.

The arrests came just an hour or so after a new government cabinet was announced. Notably it did not include Interior Security Minister Modibo Kone or Defence Minister Sadio Camara, both junta supporters. No reason was given for their exclusion, but the move suggested mounting division within the transitional government.

The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Bamako, meanwhile, said it had received "reports of increased military activity in Bamako." It urged Americans there to limit their movements.

A small number of Canadian soldiers are in Mali as part of Operation Presence, which is supporting a UN stabilization mission — Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

The Department of National Defence says up to six members are working at the MINUSMA headquarters in Bamako, while up to four are embedded within the U.K.'s Long Range Reconnaissance Group-Mali, based in Gao, about 950 kilometres east of the capital. In a statement Monday evening, it said that all are safe and accounted for, and that there will be no change to Canadian operations. 

Latest strains on democracy in country

Monday's political developments marked the latest sign of strain on democracy in Mali, which has been battling an Islamic insurgency that gained hold after another military coup in 2012.

There has been widespread concern that the upheaval in Mali will further set back efforts to contain the militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State groups.

After the 2012 coup, Islamic extremists took control of major towns in northern Mali. Only a 2013 military intervention led by former colonial power France pushed extremists out of those towns.

France and a United Nations force have continued to battle the extremist rebels, who operate in rural areas and regularly attack roads and cities.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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