Mali’s constitutional court named Assimi Goita, the colonel who spearheaded a military coup this week while acting as vice president, as the country’s new interim president on Friday.
The verdict raises the stakes as West African leaders prepare to gather on Sunday to respond to the takeover, which has jeopardized the region’s war against Islamist terrorists and has jeopardized the transition back to democracy.
Goita was appointed interim vice president after orchestrating the August coup that deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. On Monday, he ordered the detention of President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.
Both resigned on Wednesday while still in detention. They were later released.
The court said in its ruling that Goita should fill the vacancy left by Ndaw’s resignation “to lead the transition process to its conclusion” and carry the title of “president of the transition, head of state”.
The ruling set Mali on a collision course with the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has insisted that the transition, which is due to end with elections in February, remain civilian-led.
After agreeing in October to lift sanctions imposed after the coup against Keita, ECOWAS said in a declaration that the vice president of the transition “cannot under any circumstances replace the president.”
ECOWAS heads of state are due to meet in Ghana on Sunday.
They and Western powers including France and the United States fear the political crisis could exacerbate instability in northern and central Mali, a home base for regional affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Goita, a 38-year-old commander of special forces, was one of many colonels who orchestrated the coup against Keita. He deposed Ndaw when the temporary president appointed a new government that removed two of the other coup participants from ministerial positions.
Goita announced late Friday on national television that he will appoint a new prime minister from the M5-RFP alliance, which led protests against Keita last year and clashed with Ndaw and Ouane during the transition.
Choguel Maiga, a former government minister, is the coalition’s choice, according to Jeamille Bitar, a coalition member.