BAMAKO // Soldiers arrested Mali's prime minister and ordered him to resign before dawn yesterday.
The move showed that the military remains the real power in the troubled West Africa nation, even though officers made a show of handing back authority to a civilian-led government after a coup in March.
The development underscores the deep volatility at the heart of the once-stable nation of Mali.
And it reveals the rotten core which is its military, despite numerous accords that it would respect the country's democracy.
The events come as the United Nations considers financing a military intervention which would use these same soldiers in an attempt to take back Mali's north from Islamist extremists.
Prime minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra, dressed in a dark suit, his forehead glistening with sweat, appeared on state TV at 4am yesterday to announce his resignation, hours after soldiers stormed his house and forced him into a car.
"Our country is living through a period of crisis. Men and women who are worried about the future of our nation are hoping for peace," he said.
"It's for this reason that I, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, am resigning along with my entire government on this day, Tuesday, December 11, 2012. I apologise before the entire population of Mali."
After they taped his resignation, the soldiers allowed the 60-year-old to return to his residence yesterday, where he is now under house arrest, said a spokesman for the junta, Bakary Mariko. The shake-up in Bamako is already looking like it might endanger plans for a military intervention, which is being discussed this week by the UN.
The African Union agreed to a plan calling for 3,300 African troops to be deployed to Mali to help the Malian military take back its northern territory, which fell to Al Qaeda-linked rebels in the chaos following the military-led March 21 coup in the capital.
Already the United States and France are at odds on the best way forward, with France pushing for a quick intervention to expel the extremists and the US arguing for political negotiations ahead of a military move.
Mr Diarra's forced resignation and arrest makes western countries wary of getting involved in a military incursion. Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, whose country is a member of the UN Security Council, warned yesterday.
"One thing is clear. Our offers of help come with the condition that the process of restoring constitutional order in Mali be conducted credibly," Mr Westerwelle said.
"And it is only that way that the crisis in northern Mali can be resolved ... all the country's political leaders must now act responsibly so that Mali returns to stability."
Despite the events, however, a European Union military training session aimed at giving the Malian military the ability to oust the Islamist extremists is proceeding as planned, said Michael Mann, a spokesman for the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
He added that the EU is watching the situation closely and hopes for the quick appointment of a new prime minister, leading to credible elections and the restoration of constitutional rule.
Hours before he was forced to tape his resignation, Mr Diarra was arrested by the military at his home, forced into a car and driven to the Kati military camp, the sprawling base where the March 21 coup was launched.
Two security officials, including a police officer and an intelligence agent, confirmed that the coup leader, Capt Amadou Haya Sanogo, had ordered the prime minister's arrest. At the moment of his detention, the ageing civilian leader was getting ready to leave his house for the airport for a medical trip to Paris, said the police officer.
"The plane that was to take the prime minister to France was on the point of departure," said the policeman who was on duty at the airport at the moment of the incident.
"It was stopped by people from the Yerewoloton group who invaded the airport," he said, naming the civilian organisation believed to be backed by Capt Sanogo.
This same group in May invaded the presidential palace, as soldiers looked on and beat the country's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, until he lost consciousness.
That incident brought the international community down like a hammer on the head of Mali's junta.
Capt Sanogo signed a long accord, agreeing to step down and retreated from public life, although there were numerous signs indicating that the military still called the shots in Bamako.
Mr Mariko acknowledged that soldiers allied with Capt Sanogo arrested the prime minister and are now holding him under house arrest.
Mr Mariko said that Mr Diarra was "not getting along" with either the interim president or the coup leader Capt Sanogo.
"He says he's going to Paris for medical tests ... but we know better and realise that he is trying to flee in order to go and create a blockage in the Mali situation ... It's the reason why Mali's army has taken things into their own hands and told Cheikh Modibo Diarra to resign for the good of Mali," Mr Mariko added.