Mali’s president has met the leader of a protest movement that has brought many thousands on to the streets, the presidency said on Sunday.
A video posted on the presidency’s Twitter account showed the meeting between President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Mahmoud Dicko, an imam and leading figure of the so-called June 5 movement, in the capital, Bamako, on Saturday.
It was the first official meeting between the two men since two demonstrations began last month.
En images 📹 l'audience accordée à l'Imam Mahmoud Dicko, par le Chef de l'Etat, le 4 juillet 2020👇🏽 pic.twitter.com/yZJrw3l8LA
— Presidence Mali (@PresidenceMali) July 5, 2020
The protests have channelled deep-seated frustration over attacks by armed groups and interethnic violence that have claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes since 2012.
“We talked about everything that concerns this crisis and the country in general. I think that with the will of everyone and of all the parties concerned, we will, God willing, find the solution,” Dicko said in the video.
“My role as an imam, as I have said, obliges me to be someone who always considers peace as being essential: peace in our country, the sub-region and in the world.”
Keita, who has been in power since 2013, also met representatives of other political parties with the aim of “easing the political situation”, the presidency said.
But the opposition coalition of religious leaders, politicians and civil society figures said in a statement later on Sunday Keita had “ignored the demands” of the movement.
These requests included the dissolution of Parliament and the formation of a transitional government whose movement would appoint the prime minister.
The movement “reaffirms its determination to obtain by legal and legitimate means the outright resignation” of the head of state, the opposition coalition statement said, in a reversal from Wednesday when protest leaders had said Keita’s resignation would no longer be a condition for talks.
The slow pace of political reform, a flagging economy, a lack of funding for public services and schools and a widely shared perception of government corruption have fed anti-Keita sentiment.
Last month’s protests followed demonstrations in May over the results of March’s long-delayed parliamentary elections – which Keita’s party won – as well as over coronavirus restrictions.
The 75-year-old president has taken a conciliatory stance since the demonstrations began, mooting a national unity government in a June 14 address to the nation. Protest leaders rejected that offer.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Mali has been engulfed in conflict since 2012 when an uprising by Tuareg separatists erupted and was quickly overtaken by armed groups.
Despite the presence of thousands of United Nations and French troops, the conflict has spread to central Mali, neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, stirring feuds between ethnic groups and triggering fears for states farther south.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes and the economies of the three countries – already among the poorest in the world – have been grievously damaged.