A large anti-government demonstration in Mali has descended into chaos as protesters tried to occupy buildings including the national assembly, the national broadcasting house and two major bridges, while police fired tear gas to disperse them.
The protest against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, organised by an opposition coalition, is the third such demonstration in two months – significantly escalating pressure on the embattled leader.
Thousands initially gathered in a square in the capital, Bamako, on Friday to demand Keita resigns over the country’s long-running security issues, economic woes and perceived government corruption.
Led by influential scholar 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.
Leaders of the protest had called on supporters to occupy buildings including the prime minister’s office and other locations at the start of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign.
Mali’s national television ORTM went off air on Friday after hundreds of protesters entered the broadcaster’s building in the capital.
A journalist inside the ORTM building told Reuters news agency by telephone that she was preparing her newscast when protesters stormed the building and that people were asked to barricade themselves in their offices.
A few kilometres away, other protesters pelted the national assembly with rocks, shattering its glass facade.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Hague, reporting from neighbouring Senegal, said Mali police tried to disperse the crowd by firing tear gas as they attempted to force protesters out of the ORTM building.
“The situation has turned from bad to worse,” he said.
“What we are saying right now is that the protesters have taken over the main areas of the capital with police trying to fire tear gas to disperse the crowd that is defying. They have taken control of the two main bridges of the capital and have cut off the national television channel,” he said.
“Their grievances range from teachers not being paid for months to people that are being displaced because of the ongoing violence in Mali, and other accusing the government and the President himself of using the state coffers for their personal gain.”
‘Enough is enough’
Thousands of protesters had earlier filled the city’s Independence Square, chanting and waving banners with slogans including: “Enough is Enough” and “IBK, clear off”, referring to the president.
The impasse is a growing concern for Mali‘s neighbours and outside powers, who worry it could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against armed groups in the West African Sahel region.
Dicko told France24 television the opposition coalition had dropped the demand for the president to resign but want further gestures from him.
“This is because we think it (the resignation) will cause more problems than it will resolve,” Dicko said.
“Mali‘s problem is not about a government of national unity. It is a problem of governance.”
However, some protesters are still calling on the president to step down.
Keita was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, but his leadership has faced mounting opposition amid a surge in armed violence and an economic crisis.