Ousted Mali president Keita leaves country as transition talks begin

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Ousted Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita left the country on Saturday for medical treatment in Abu Dhabi, an adviser said, as talks about a transition back to civilian rule following last month’s military coup got off to a chaotic start.

Keita, 75, was hospitalised in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, six days after he was released from detention by theruling junta, which seized power on August 18.

His former chief of staff, Mamadou Camara, told Reuters that Keita left Bamako on Saturday evening aboard a plane chartered by the United Arab Emirates at the request of Mali’s ruling junta.

“It is a medical visit of between 10 and 15 days,” Camara said.

Keita’s medical condition is unclear. He had a benign tumour removed from his neck in 2016.

West African leaders, fearing the coup could set a precedent that would undermine their power and an international fight against Islamist militants in the wider Sahel region, initially insisted Keita be restored to power.

But they have since dropped that demand and are now calling for elections within a year: a timeline the junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), has not committed to.

Talks about the shape of the transition period opened on Saturday with hundreds of representatives from the junta,political parties and civil society groups attending an opening ceremony in Bamako.

But less than an hour after it began, supporters of the M5-RFP coalition, which led mass demonstrations against Keita before the coup, began to protest, accusing the junta of excluding them from most working groups.

M5-RFP supporters in the conference hall shouted down the moderator onstage, bringing proceedings to a halt.
The moderator later announced that the M5-RFP would be able to participate in all of the working groups, which calmed the coalition’s supporters and allowed the event to resume.

The talks, which are also being held in regional capitals across Mali, are scheduled to continue on Sunday and then resume again late next week.