By Adama Diarra
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, announced the creation of a number of new top-level government positions on Sunday in a shake-up of a transitional team heavily criticized for failing to tackle the country's twin crises.
The West African nation, once seen as a rare stable democracy in a tumultuous region, has been split in two since a coup on March 22 paved the way for a military advance by northern separatists and al Qaeda-linked Islamists.
Traore was named interim president as part of a deal that saw a military junta return leadership of the country to civilian authorities. A transitional government was formed under Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, a former NASA astrophysicist and political novice, to usher Mali to elections and reconquer the north.
But, three months on, crippled by internal bickering, it has achieved little.
Traore has spent much of his short tenure in France recovering from injuries he sustained in May when a pro-coup mob broke into his offices and beat him up. He only returned to Mali on Friday.
In a speech broadcast on state television on Sunday night, he called on Malians to forgive one another and unite behind efforts to end the political crisis in the south and reunify the country.
"Given the complexity of this crisis and the depth of the distress of our people ... as patriots and democrats we must together clear the path we will follow to free our country from all these invaders," he said.
He went on to outline his plan for modifying the transitional authority, calling for the creation of two vice-presidential posts, one to be held by the military and another for "social actors."
He also announced the creation of a national council of transition and a special commission to negotiate with armed groups in the north.
But details concerning how power would be shared under the new arrangement were scarce.
West Africa's ECOWAS bloc, which is pushing for the deployment of a 3,000-troop intervention force in Mali, has grown increasingly impatient with the current interim body's lack of progress towards resolving the political impasse.
Earlier this month, it gave Mali's political leaders until the end of July to form a new, more representative government.
Traore said in his address that he would carry out consultations for the creation of a new government of national unity, but he stopped short of offering a timetable for its formation.
Diarra, in his own televised speech a day earlier, said he would stay on to complete his job.
"I will not resign and I cannot resign," he said. "The Islamists did not take hold in the north on March 22 or April 17, but over the last 10 years. And it's not in three months that a transitional government will get the Islamists out. We need time to organize ourselves."
While the coup was condemned abroad, the reaction in cotton- and gold-producing Mali was mixed, with some praising the removal of a political class they said was corrupt.
This pro-coup camp has broadly called for Diarra to remain and is opposed to a foreign military intervention. The prime minister's backers held a rally on Sunday calling for him to stay on.
Diarra stopped short of saying he would defy the president if asked to step down.
"I don't have time for polemic debate. My mission is to take back the north and organize elections," he said.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who holds ECOWAS' rotating presidency, told the French weekly Journal du Dimanche that the regional bloc was preparing to submit a new request for military invention in Mali to the U.N. Security Council.
According to ECOWAS planners, African forces would first restore stability in the capital, Bamako. After that, regional militaries would help revamp Mali's defeated military and look at helping it retake the north. But details remain sketchy.
(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Cooney)