Mali president launches probe after protest turns violent

At least one killed, 20 others wounded as police fire gunshots and tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters.

    Supporters of Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other opposition parties attend a mass protest demanding the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako last month [File: Matthieu Rosier/Reuters]
    Supporters of Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other opposition parties attend a mass protest demanding the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako last month [File: Matthieu Rosier/Reuters]

    Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has said he has launched an investigation into violence committed during a mass anti-government protest on Friday, which saw at least one person killed and 20 others wounded.

    Thousands rallied in the capital city Bamako to demand Keita's resignation over long-running security issues, economic woes and perceived government corruption in the fragile West African state.

    The rally was organised by an opposition coalition and is the third such demonstration in two months - significantly escalating pressure on the embattled leader.

    Led by influential scholar Mahmoud Dicko, the so-called June 5 movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the country.

    The protest was the third since June, and came after the coalition rejected concessions from Keita aimed at resolving a months-long political standoff that began after a disputed legislative election in March.

    But Friday's protest later descended into chaos as demonstrators blocked main thoroughfares, attacked the parliament and stormed the premises of the state broadcaster while police fired tear gas to disperse them.

    "We have recorded one death," said Yamadou Diallo, a doctor in Bamako's Gabriel Toure Hospital, adding that 20 people had been wounded.

    An official from the prime minister's office also confirmed the death. The circumstances under which people were wounded and one person was killed were not immediately clear.

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

    It also urged security forces to protect "the bare-handed protesters who are only defending democratic, secular and republican values".

    Keita, in a statement on Friday evening, said the scale of "human and material losses" remained unclear but that an investigation was under way.

    He also bemoaned the violence and suggested that some opposition leaders had incited it.

    Civil disobedience

    Opposition leaders had published a 10-point document calling for civil disobedience, with recommendations including not paying fines, blocking entry to state buildings, and occupying crossroads.

    Friday's demonstration came after the president unsuccessfully floated reforms intended to appease opponents this week, having rejected their calls to dissolve the parliament and form a transition government.

    Many protesters on Friday carried placards bearing anti-government slogans and blew vuvuzela horns, AFP news agency 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 in the city, AFP journalists said, and entered the courtyard of state broadcaster ORTM, whose television channels later went off the air.

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

    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 a surge in armed violence 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.

    SOURCE: News agencies