Mali tense after deadly anti-government protests

Agence France-Presse
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita orders an investigation into the unrest

PROTEST. A man holds a sign reading "Release Soumaila" during a meeting organized to call for the release of opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, kidnapped in central Mali on March 25, during the campaign for parliamentary elections in Bamako on July 2, 2020. Photo by Michelle Cattani/AFP

BAMAKO, Mali – Tensions ran high in Mali Saturday, July 11, a day after deadly mass protests seeking the ouster of the fragile nation’s president, as the opposition vowed to turn up the heat until he quits.

Friday, July 10, saw the worst civil unrest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in years with thousands rallying in the capital Bamako to demand his resignation over a long-running jihadist conflict, economic woes and perceived government corruption.

As the demonstration spiralled into violence, at least two people were killed and 70 injured as security forces opened fire, according to medics.

The demonstrators attacked parliament and ransacked the national television station.

Keita late Friday warned that security would be maintained “with no signs of weakness,” but signalled his willingness “to do everything possible to calm the situation”.

He also launched an investigation into the unrest.

The protest, organized by a new opposition coalition, was the third such demonstration in less than two months – significantly escalating pressure on the 75-year-old president.

Led by influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the “June 5 movement” is channeling deep-seated frustrations in the West African country.

The opposition alliance said in a Friday evening statement that, pending further details, it held the government responsible for the violence.

‘Step up’ pressure

It called on the public “to maintain and step up this mobilization until the aim is achieved, which is the resignation of the president.”

The opposition alliance is due to spell out future strategy in a press conference later Saturday.

Two of its leaders, Issa Kaou Djim and Clement Dembele, were arrested on Friday evening, it said.

Officials on Saturday were counting the cost of the violence.

“The material damage has been considerable: 6 vehicles burnt, the windscreens of 7 vehicles smashed, the machine to digitalize the archives stolen – it was new – and the server of the news program and other material damaged,” the head of the state-run television and radio network, Salif Sanogo, told Agence France-Presse.

The television station resumed broadcasts on Saturday and was being guarded ny security forces.

Bamako still bore the signs of the unrest with many roads littered with rocks and stones and the remnants of barricades put up by protesters.

Security forces overnight took back control of two of the 3 arterial bridges over the Niger River which had been taken over by protesters.

Such unrest is rare in Bamako, which has been spared much of the violence that is routine across swathes of Mali.

The country has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that first emerged in the north in 2012, before spreading to the center of the country and to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.

Olive branch

Similar protests were held in other cities of the country.

The opposition’s call for civil disobedience includes suggestions such as not paying fines, blocking entry to state buildings, and occupying crossroads.

After weeks of growing political tension, Keita had made a speech on Wednesday in which he offered to appoint new judges to the constitutional court.

The court has been at the center of controversy in Mali since April 29, when it overturned provisional results for March’s parliamentary poll for about 30 seats.

That move saw several members of Keita’s party elected and triggered protests in several cities and is widely seen as having ignited the country’s latest political crisis.

The US special envoy to the Sahel J Peter Pham said called the events “worrying,” adding “any unconstitutional change of government is out of the question.” –