"For several days now, Cheikh Modibo Diarra has mobilized his supporters and boycotted the national conference (currently being held to discuss Mali's future)," said spokesman Bacary Mariko. "And now he says he's going to Paris for medical tests ... but we know better and realize that he is trying to flee in order to go and create a blockage in the Mali situation."
Mariko claimed that Diarra was "not getting along" with the president or coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo.
"It's the reason why Mali's army has taken things into their own hands and told Cheikh Modibo Diarra to resign for the good of Mali," Mariko said.
A police officer and an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press said the 60-year-old Diarra was arrested at his home around 10 p.m. Monday by soldiers loyal to Sanogo.
Diarra's televised declaration may have been made at the military barracks, and not at the headquarters of the state broadcaster. Behind Diarra when he spoke on TV was a bare wall, not the professional studio of the national television station.
Human Rights Watch's senior researcher for West Africa, Corinne Dufka, condemned the military's intervention, saying it fits with the pattern of abuse by the soldiers ever since the coup eight months ago.
"They've arrested, beaten and intimidated journalists; tortured and disappeared military rivals; and now, apparently, arbitrarily detained the prime minister. None of these incidents have been investigated and those responsible appear to have been emboldened by the shameful lack of accountability," said Dufka.
For several weeks, tension has been mounting between the officers who led the coup and Diarra, the civilian prime minister whom they were forced to appoint when they handed back power to a transitional government.
Diarra, an astrophysicist who previously led one of NASA's Mars exploration programs, was initially seen as in step with Sanogo. Critics lambasted him for frequently driving to the Kati barracks to see the coup leader, apparently to seek his advice long after Sanogo was supposed to have handed power to civilians. In recent weeks though, Diarra has appeared to be taking stances that sometimes conflict with Sanogo.
Last weekend for example, Diarra helped organized a demonstration calling for a United Nations-backed military intervention to take back Mali's north.
Callimachi reported from Dakar, Senegal. AP writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, Don Melvin in Brussels and Jamey Keaton in Paris contributed to this report.
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