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Ecowas leaders ease election deadlines for Mali junta

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Leaders of ECOWAS on Tuesday appeared to give in to Mali military junta’s timeline for holding new elections, signaling that they would now accept an 18-month delay after earlier saying that democracy had to be restored to Mali within a year.

The announcement came as the Malian junta that seized power in an Aug. 18 coup failed to name an interim civilian leader on Tuesday, missing a deadline that had been set by the 15-nation regional bloc – ECOWAS.

Six West African presidents met with junta officials Tuesday in Ghana, whose president now serves as the new ECOWAS chairman. In a bit to step up pressure on those who overthrew Mali’s democratically elected leader, ECOWAS already has halted financial links and closed borders with Mali.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo signaled late Tuesday, though, that ECOWAS could show some flexibility on the time frame for organizing a new election in Mali.

“The transition period can go up to 18 months and once that is done, sanctions against the country will be lifted,” he said.

Mali’s junta had earlier floated the idea of waiting three years before holding a new election, a proposal quickly rejected by both ECOWAS and former colonizer France, which maintains a large military presence in Mali where it has been fighting Islamic extremists.

However, there was no resolution Tuesday on who will lead Mali’s transition back to democracy after the Aug. 18 coup. The international community has insisted it must be a civilian leader with no ties to the military junta. But the junta’s leader, Col. Assimi Goita, said over the weekend that the interim leader may come from the military.

That prompted swift condemnation from Mali political opposition alliance, which once shared a mutual dislike of ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

There has been widespread concern that the ongoing political upheaval in Mali will set back efforts to contain the country’s growing Islamic insurgency. After a similar coup in 2012, Islamic extremists grabbed control of major towns in northern Mali. Only a 2013 military intervention led by France pushed extremists out of those towns and the international community has spent seven years battling the militants.

“The terrorists are taking advantage of the situation in Mali to flex their muscles even more,” Ghana’s president warned Tuesday.

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