Mali president returns home after beating attack

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By BABA AHMED, Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's interim president returned home Friday, two months after seeking medical treatment in France when he was badly beaten by protesters who back a coup leader hanging onto power.

Dioncounda Traore became the country's president in April after the soldiers behind a March coup agreed in principle to hand over power to an interim civilian government. The coup leader, though, has shown no signs of leaving.

In May, his supporters broke through a security cordon and attacked Traore in his office. He was brought unconscious to a hospital, and demonstrators were seen hoisting his bloody tie and shoe in celebration.

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.

Many Malians believed that Traore would not return to the western African nation after being so gravely wounded.

"I think Dioncounda Traore is brave to make the decision to come back," said Binta Sangare, a student at the University of Bamako. "In reality, though, I don't like him as a transitional president, but if he is the way out of this crisis, we don't really have a choice."

Traore, the former head of Mali's national assembly, is a seen as a close ally of the president who was ousted by coup leader Capt. Amadou Sanogo.

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.

After the coup, ethnic Tuareg rebels seeking secession took control of the country's north — an area larger than France — but were driven out in June by the Islamists vowing to introduce an ultra-strict interpretation of Islamic law known as Shariah.

Earlier this week, the regional bloc known as ECOWAS said it had secured Mali's consent to go ahead with plans for a 3,000-soldier military intervention to help take back the troubled north. Among other things, it is also aimed at improving security, though the plan still awaits U.N. Security Council approval.

"You'll all remember what happened in the past when the interim president was assaulted, so those kinds of issues will not occur once we have a standby force in place in Mali," Salamatu Hussaini Suleiman, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, said Thursday.

French President Francois Hollande also said this week that he was hopeful for Mali's future.

"I know President Traore will return to his own country and do the indispensable work of reconciliation," Hollande said.

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