BAMAKO (Reuters) - Malian soldiers arrested Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra late on Monday, accusing him of blocking efforts to stabilize a nation divided by a coup in the capital and the Islamist takeover of the desert north.
"He was arrested ... as he tried to leave for France," said Bakary Mariko, a spokesman for the group of soldiers who seized power in a March coup. The group remains powerful despite officially handing power back to civilians earlier this year.
Diarra's arrest was confirmed by a diplomat in Mali.
The move will complicate efforts to stabilize the West African nation, where soldiers and politicians remain divided since the coup in March and where the north of the country is occupied by al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters.
Residents in Bamako said the town was quiet in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Mariko said Diarra had been taken to Kati, the military barracks town just outside the capital which still serves as the former junta's headquarters.
"The country is in crisis but he was blocking the institutions," Mariko said. "This is not a coup. The president is still in place but the prime minister was no longer working in the interests of the country."
Officials from Diarra's office were not available for comment.
There have been divisions for months between the former junta, interim President Diouncounda Traore and Diarra, a former NASA scientist and Microsoft chief for Africa.
Diarra was made prime minister in April after the military officially handed power back to civilians. As the son-in-law of Moussa Traore, a former Malian coup leader and president, he appeared to have good ties with the military.
However, tensions became particularly acute in recent weeks, with analysts saying Diarra, a relative newcomer to Malian politics after years abroad, seemed keen to establish a political base of his own ahead of any future elections.
West African leaders and Western nations have warned that Mali's north has become a safe haven for terrorism and organized crime, but they have struggled to draw up plans to help the country because of the deep divisions in the capital.
Some of Mali's politicians support the idea of a foreign-backed military operation to retake control of the north. Others, including much of the military, say they need only financial and logistical support and insist that Mali can carry out the operation itself.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako and David Lewis in Dakar.; Writing by David Lewis; editing by Christopher Wilson)
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