FILE: Former parliamentary speaker Dioncounda Traore is sworn in as Mali's interim president in the capital, Bamako.

Bamako -

A mathematician, trade unionist and former government minister, Dioncounda Traore, who returns to Mali on Friday after being savagely beaten by critics, became interim president of a nation in crisis in April.

“I am conscious of being president of a country at war,” the 70-year-old political veteran announced when he took office on April 12 in Bamako, the capital of the west African state.

Since then, the situation has worsened in Mali. Separatist Tuareg rebels who launched an offensive in January have been sidelined in the north by Islamists who claim ties with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and have taken control. About 400 000 people have fled the region.

Traore was violently attacked on May 21 in his office in Bamako by an enraged and hostile mob. He has since been in France for medical care and convalescence.

Born on February 23, 1942 in Kati, near Bamako, Traore was speaker of the National Assembly from 2007. Before the crisis began, there were no hints that he would find himself in charge of a divided country.

“I'm a mathematician, I'm a trade unionist and I remain one at heart,” he declared before taking up his functions three weeks after a military coup that ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure, popularly called ATT. The coup leaders had agreed to hand over power to civilians.

Traore describes himself as “political but not a politician”.

“For a politician, the end justifies the means, but not for somebody political,” he said.

He chairs the Alliance for Democracy in Mali-African Party for Solidarity and Justice (Adema-PASJ), which battled the regime of Moussa Traore, overthrown in 1991 after almost 23 years of strong rule and a bloody insurrection.

Aides describe Traore as a man who values consensus.

Traore was trained in Mali, Algeria and France before he returned home in 1978 and became an academic, who was arrested several times for his trade union activities.

From 1992, he began an increasingly high-powered career as government minister, charged with civil service and labour (1992-1993), defence (1993-1994) and foreign affairs (1994-1997).

In 1997, he was elected a member of parliament. Ten years later, he became leader of a coalition of parties that backed ATT's presidential candidacy. ATT was once re-elected and was preparing to stand down before the army stepped in last March 22.

Dioncounda Traore was the candidate of Adema-PASJ in a presidential poll that had been scheduled, before the coup, for April 29.

He was absent from Mali during troubled times, which earned him criticism from many, especially the young who found it hard to forgive him for remaining silent while “the country burned”.

Many youths were among the demonstrators who took to the streets on May 21 to express their hostility to the interim president, who had been installed for a year, and they broke into his office and beat him.

The coup leaders, who have stood down in theory, handing power to Traore and his contested prime minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, have not really quit the political stage in Bamako.

Their henchmen have committed many assaults in the capital on figures deemed to be close to ousted president ATT. - Sapa-AFP