Mali junta moves toward selecting interim president after embargo threat

FILE PHOTO: Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian military junta, looks on while he stands behind Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou during a photo opportunity after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) consultative meeting in Accra, Ghana September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s ruling junta said on Wednesday that it had started the process of naming an interim president, after West African presidents threatened a total embargo on the landlocked country.

Leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met on Tuesday with the heads of the junta that overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last month to try to speed up the transition back to civilian rule.

West African leaders, nervous the coup could set a dangerous precedent and undermine a fight against Islamist militants across the Sahel region, imposed economic sanctions after the coup, but they appear to have had a limited effect so far.

Speaking to reporters after returning to Mali, junta spokesman Colonel Ismael Wague said ECOWAS leaders had given one week for a civilian interim president and prime minister to be in place.

Wague said the junta told the heads of state it could not give an immediate response. A transitional charter approved at multi-party talks says the interim president can be a soldier or a civilian and will be chosen by electors selected by the junta.

“We returned around 2 a.m. and already this morning we have started to put in place the electors, which means we are sensitive to ECOWAS’s ultimatum,” said Wague.

“They say they can still toughen (the sanctions), because so far the food, the fuel is going through,” he said. “They say they can make a total embargo. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out.”

In a communique after Tuesday’s meeting, ECOWAS said it would lift sanctions once civilian leaders were in place and appeared to accept the junta’s 18-month timetable for the transition after previously insisting on elections within a year.

Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Paul Lorgerie; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Aaron Ross and Mike Collett-White