Mali could delay post-coup elections, interim PM says


FILE PHOTO: Mali's Prime Minister Choguel Maiga addresses the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City, U.S., September 25, 2021. Kena Betancur/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

DAKAR (Reuters) - Mali could push back presidential and legislative elections from late February to avoid their validity being contested, its prime minister handling a post-coup transition said.

Mali's progress back to democracy following the August 2020 overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is being closely monitored in a region that has experienced four coups in 13 months, two of them in Mali.

Under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc, Mali's new military leaders agreed to an 18-month transition that would culminate with presidential and legislative elections on Feb. 27, 2022.

But in an interview with Radio France International and France24 on Sunday, Mali's interim prime minister, Choguel Maiga, said that date could be postponed by "two weeks, two months, a few months."

"[The electoral calendar] was based on the requirements of ECOWAS without asking what practical steps must be taken to get there," Maiga said. "The main thing for us is less to stick to Feb. 27 than to hold elections that will not be contested."

Maiga said a final date would be determined by late October.

ECOWAS has not yet responded. Last month the bloc said it would impose sanctions, including asset freezes, on anyone holding up preparations for Mali's elections.

Maiga also addressed reports that Mali is close to a deal with a Russian company, the Wagner Group, to hire private military contractors to help fight Islamist insurgents.

"We are at the stage of rumours and often even disinformation," he said.

As soon as Mali agrees a deal with any country or partner, it will be announced, he said.

"We will have no shame in making it public," he said.

Diplomatic and security sources told Reuters Mali was close to a deal to with the Wagner Group. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday the Malian authorities had turned to a private military company from Russia.

The possibility of such a deal has triggered opposition from France, which has said the involvement of Russian military contractors was incompatible with a continued French presence in the West African state.

(Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Alessandra Prentice)

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