By MARTIN VOGL, Associated Press
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's interim president, who was beaten by a mob of demonstrators who broke into his office this week, has left the country to seek medical treatment in France, an adviser and two French government officials said Wednesday.
The unexpected, and unpublicized, departure of the 70-year-old Dioncounda Traore leaves a dangerous power vacuum in the West African nation, which was thrown off course following a March coup.
Contacted by telephone, an adviser to Traore said the interim president had left Mali for France to do medical tests on his heart because he has had a previous heart attack. Two government officials in France confirmed that Traore was coming to Paris for treatment. All three requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Mediators have been working around-the-clock to get the military junta to accept a transition to civilian rule, and the coup leader finally agreed to step aside this weekend and allow Traore, the former head of the national assembly, to lead a one-year transition before new elections are held.
Now, Mali's military leaders are facing sanctions because of the brutal attack Monday on Traore.
Reporters saw soldiers wave the protesters inside the presidential compound. Once inside, they beat Traore and he was brought unconscious to a local hospital. The demonstrators were seen celebrating outside his office, where they hoisted his bloody tie and shoe.
The protesters are believed to have been aided by soldiers loyal to the military junta that grabbed power in March and who are unhappy by the transition back to a civilian-led government.
The nations bordering Mali sent negotiators to pressure the junta to restore constitutional rule. According to Mali's constitution, if the president is unable to complete his term, the head of the national assembly becomes interim president for a transitional period before new elections are organized.
Traore is a divisive figure in Mali because he is seen as a close ally of the toppled president. Although the March coup reversed two decades of democracy in Mali, many have expressed support for the military takeover because of frustration with the previous regime, which was seen as inept and corrupt.
Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.