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New Mali PM's 'priority' is to regain control of north

By AFP

BAMAKO (AFP) - Mali's new Prime Minister Diango Cissoko told AFP late Tuesday that his priorities are to regain control of the north from Islamists and organise a general election in the troubled west African nation.

"The priority is the recovery of the north and the organisation of elections.... I want to create a government of national unity," he said following his appointment in place of Cheick Modibo Diarra, who quit Tuesday under military pressure.

"I want to tell Malians that they must get together, because it's only a unified people that can confront their problems."

Interim president Dioncounda Traore appointed Cissoko -- a veteran public servant who latterly served as ombudsman -- just hours after Diarra was forced out.

Diarra quit after being arrested by soldiers on orders from former coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, a move swiftly condemned by the UN and United States.

The UN Security council joined calls from France, the United States, the European Union and regional bloc ECOWAS for the military to stop meddling in political affairs, and threatened targeted sanctions against those preventing the restoration of constitutional order.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the move against Diarra, a US citizen, "a setback for Mali's transition."

The fresh crisis comes amid mounting confusion over plans for a foreign military intervention to drive out Islamists who occupied over half of Mali's territory in the wake of a coup led by Sanogo in March.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "troubled by what happened in Mali."

Diarra's resignation came a day after the EU approved plans to deploy an military training mission of some 250 troops Mali to help the government regain control of the vast semi-desert north.

The 60-year-old astrophysicist and former chairman of Microsoft Africa was seized at home by soldiers late Monday and hours later at dawn went on state television to announce he was stepping down.

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