Mali leader flies to France for health checks after attack

BAMAKO Wed May 23, 2012 4:38pm EDT

Dioncounda Traore being sworn in as Mali's interim president in the capital Bamako in this April 12, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Malin Palm

Dioncounda Traore being sworn in as Mali's interim president in the capital Bamako in this April 12, 2012 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Malin Palm

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's interim leader Dioncounda Traore was flown to France on Wednesday for medical checks after he was attacked by protesters this week, Mali's government spokesman said.

Traore suffered facial injuries when hundreds of protesters broke into the presidential palace on Monday. The full extent of his injuries was not clear but two diplomatic sources said he was due to have checks on his pacemaker.

Hamadoun Toure, Mali's interim government spokesman, said on state television the medical visit had been long planned and Traore would return once he was cleared by his doctor.

"Due to an unfortunate coincidence of events, his visit to the French capital comes two days after an attack perpetrated against him by demonstrators while he was in his office," Toure said in a brief statement on television.

Official sources in Paris told Reuters the visit was a private one of a kind the president had often made before.

A tug-of-war for leadership of coup-stricken Mali has emerged between supporters of the ruling military junta and those backing Traore, who has been guiding a transition back to democracy since April.

The uncertainty could complicate international efforts to restore constitutional order in the West African state since mutinous soldiers toppled the government on March 22, paving the way for rebels to take over the country's north.

Junta supporters want coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to take over the role of interim president from Traore, after a 40-day deadline imposed on his leadership by the junta expired on May 22.

Security forces dispersed a meeting scheduled at a sports stadium in the capital on Wednesday afternoon by supporters of the junta.

"This will not be an inauguration (of Sanogo)," Oumar Mariko, a pro-junta youth leader, said before the gathering.

"This is a meeting to let the public known about the conclusions of the convention." A convention on Monday and Tuesday of political parties aligned with the junta picked Sanogo as the next interim president.

But the FDR umbrella group of politicians and civil society leaders backing Traore, the 70-year-old parliament speaker inaugurated with international backing on April 12, said on Wednesday he would not step down, and called for a West African regional force to intervene.

"Dioncounda (Traore) will never resign," Tebou Telly, an FDR leader, told a news conference in Bamako.

(Additional reporting by David Lewis, Bate Felix in Dakar and Brian Love in Paris; writing by Mark John and Bate Felix; editing by Andrew Roche)

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