Mali's constitutional court in Bamako has named Assimi Goita — the vice president and colonel who was at the helm of a military coup earlier this week — as the new interim president.
Goita had assumed the chair of interim vice president after leading a coup in August last year that removed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
In a coup-within-a-coup on Monday, Goita ordered the arrests of caretaker President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.
Both leaders signed their resignations on Wednesday while in detention and were later released.
The top court ruled on Friday 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".
Goita perhaps not palatable to ECOWAS
The ouster of Ndaw and Ouane has risked Mali's already-frail transition back to democracy. The transition was slated to end with elections in February.
The decision to make Goita president put Mali at loggerheads with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which had insisted on a civilian-led transition after the original coup.
Following an agreement last October to lift sanctions imposed after the coup against Keita, the 15-member ECOWAS had said in a declaration that the vice president of the transition "cannot under any circumstances replace the president."
Friday's ruling comes ahead of a meeting of ECOWAS heads of state in Ghana on Sunday as a response to the takeover.
The military intervention in government in Bamako in recent months has further complicated the country's long-running fight with French assistance against Islamist rebels.
Goita to name new prime minister
On Friday, Goita said that he would name a new prime minister within days.
The military strongman added that he wanted a member of the opposition M5 movement — which led protests against Keita last year and fell out with the caretaker government during the transition — for the role.
"In the coming days, the prime minister who will be appointed will carry out a broad consultation between the different factions," he said during a meeting with politicians and civil-society leaders in Bamako.
Russia hails release of interim leaders
Meanwhile, Russia welcomed the release of Ndaw and Ouane from prison, calling that a "step in the right direction".
Russia also urged a dialogue between all political actors.
"We are calling for constructive dialogue between all political forces in Mali for the sake of unity and stability in the country," it said on Friday.
Russia's foreign ministry said it was keenly watching the events in Mali and urged the current authorities to resume cooperation with ECOWAS.
Earlier in the day hundreds of Malians rallied in the capital to support the army as well as Russia.
According to reports, some also waved Russian flags and carried placards attacking France, Mali's former colonial power, which has stationed troops in the country to help in its fight against jihadist insurgency.
Moscow, which was a key player on the continent in the Soviet era and backed several independence movements, also encouraged Mali to eventually hold "democratic elections" with the support of ECOWAS and the African Union.
dvv/msh (AFP, Reuters)