Mali's president replaces junta-linked army chief

BAMAKO Sat Nov 9, 2013 4:59pm EST

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali, addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Burton/Pool

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BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has replaced the head of the army, further marginalizing officers involved in a coup that helped plunge the West African nation into turmoil last year.

A military junta led by Amadou Sanogo, then a captain and now a general, overthrew President Amandou Toumani Toure in March 2012. The chaos created by the putsch allowed al Qaeda-linked fighters to seize more than half the country until a French-led intervention this year broke their grip.

The decision to replace army chief of staff General Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele, who was appointed to the post by Sanogo following the coup, was taken during a cabinet meeting on Friday, a government statement said.

Keita, who won an August presidential run-off meant to draw a line under a year and a half of political turmoil, has sought to sideline the junta's leadership as he moves to reassert civilian authority and reunite the country.

The director of the national police force and the head of Mali's military academies, both considered close to Sanogo, were also replaced on Friday.

Keita replaced the head of state security, another senior junta member, last month and he has also abolished a military reform commission that Sanogo had headed.

Sanogo was summoned for questioning this week over suspicions that he had been involved in an army protest in September that left six soldiers dead and a colonel missing.

General Mahamane Toure, the new army chief of staff, is currently the director of the Alioune Blondin Beye peacekeeping school in Mali's capital Bamako.

(Makes clear Dembele was appointed after coup, not during transitional administration)

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alistair Lyon)

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