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Protest against Mali president turns violent





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Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, protest
President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

A mass protest in Mali against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita descended into violence on Friday as protesters blocked main thoroughfares, attacked the parliament and stormed the premises of a state broadcaster.

One person was killed during the protest in the capital Bamako, officials said.

The protest, organised by a new opposition coalition, is the third such demonstration in two months — significantly escalating pressure on the embattled president.

Thousands initially gathered in a central city square on Friday to demand that Keita resigns over the country’s long-running jihadist conflict, economic woes and perceived government corruption.

Led by influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the so-called June 5 movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the war-torn West African state.

Keita this week unsuccessfully floated political reforms in a bid to appease opponents but did not concede to demands from the political opposition to dissolve the parliament and form a transition government.

— Barricades, burning tyres —

On Friday, many protesters carried placards bearing anti-government slogans and blowing vuvuzela horns, AFP reporters saw.

“We don’t want this regime any more,” said one of the demonstrators, Sy Kadiatou Sow.

Protesters later erected barricades and set tyres alight on two of the main bridges across the River Niger that runs through Bamako, according to AFP journalists, and entered the courtyard of state broadcaster ORTM.

ORTM television channels were off air on Friday afternoon, an AFP journalist said.

AFP was unable to immediately confirm the reason the channels were off air.

National guardsmen also fired tear gas at protesters hurling stones at the parliament building.

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

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

— ‘Civil disobedience’ —

Opposition leaders on Friday also published a ten-point document calling for civil disobedience.

Recommendations for actions included in the document included not paying fines, and blocking entry to state buildings — except hospitals — and occupying crossroads.

Friday’s demonstration follows an attempt by Keita on Wednesday to appease growing opposition to his government by offering to appoint new judges to the constitutional court.

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

That move saw several members of Keita’s party elected to the parliament and triggered protests in several cities.

It is also widely as having ignited the country’s latest political crisis.

Keita suggested in a televised speech on Wednesday that appointing new judges would mean that the constitutional court could revisit its earlier decision.

But the speech fell on deaf ears among Mali’s opposition leaders, who had been demanding that the 75-year-old dissolve the parliament and form a transition government, however.

Issa Kaou Djim, a member of the political opposition, said that efforts at dialogue with Keita had failed.

“Now, no one considers him the president. But everything we are going to do will be done within a democratic and republican framework,” he added.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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