Microsoft man gets Mali PM's job but junta retains control

Mali named Microsoft's Africa representative as its caretaker Prime Minister yesterday but its path back to civilian rule was thrown into doubt as soldiers arrested key allies of the ousted president, Amadou Toumani Toure.

The coup emboldened Tuareg-led rebels to seize control of the northern half of the West African country, which security experts now fear could become a haven for al-Qa'ida allies.

The appointment of former Nasa astrophysicist Cheick Modibo Diarra, a political novice whom Microsoft Corp named its "ambassador to Africa" in 2006, was announced by state television. The move was the latest step in restoring constitutional order after the 22 March coup.

But the overnight arrests of leading Toure allies by soldiers underlined that the junta holds sway in the capital Bamako.

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