Mali opposition rejects president’s concessions amid stalemate

President Keita earlier announced dissolution of constitutional court in bid to quell protests amid political crisis.

Mass protest to demand the resignation of the Mali''s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako
Led by influential scholar Mahmoud Dicko, the June 5 movement is channeling deep-seated frustrations in the West African country [File: Matthieu Rosier/Reuters]

Mali’s opposition on Sunday rejected concessions by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita aimed at resolving an escalating political crisis that has sparked deadly protests, saying it would be satisfied only if he resigns.

Keita announced in a speech late on Saturday he was dissolving the Constitutional Court and would move to implement recommendations made last month by regional bloc ECOWAS, which included re-running some of March’s contested legislative elections.

A spokesman for M5-RFP, a coalition of political, religious and civil society leaders that launched protests over a month ago calling for Keita to resign, rejected his proposal.

“We are not going to accept this nonsense,” the spokesman, Nouhoum Togo, told Reuters news agency. “We demand his resignation plain and simple.” 

The rejection comes as more opposition leaders have been arrested over the past two days.

The status of the court had been at the centre of the latest unrest, triggering protests in several cities that on Friday descended into violence.

Clashes raged again in the capital Bamako on Saturday as demonstrators – angered by long-running security issues, economic woes and perceived government corruption – demanded Keita’s resignation.

However, numbers were well below the thousands who took to the streets and occupied state buildings on Friday.

Authorities say four people have died in the unrest, while six opposition figures have been arrested in two days as the government cracks down on the alliance, also known as the June 5 Movement.

Keita said in a Saturday night address that he had repealed the licenses of all remaining members of the constitutional court so that new judges could be appointed from next week.

“The reformed court can quickly help us find solutions to the disputes arising from the legislative elections,” the 75-year-old president, in power since 2013, said in a television appearance.

‘Step up’ mobilisation

The opposition coalition said  two of its senior figures, Choguel Kokala Maiga and Mountaga Tall, were detained along with other activists on Saturday. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested on Friday.

In addition, security forces “came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters,” M5-RFP spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.

There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of Security.

Led by influential scholar Mahmoud Dicko, the movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the West African country.

Friday’s protest was the third such demonstration in less than two months, significantly escalating pressure on the president.

As flaming roadblocks appeared around Bamako on Saturday, the atmosphere was tense around the mosque where Dicko preaches, his supporters seemingly afraid that the scholar would be arrested.

Security forces used live ammunition as clashes broke out, seriously wounding several men, according to associates of Dicko who published photos of the injuries.

On Saturday, Dicko called for calm, urging his supporters not to “provoke” or “attack” anyone.

“Do not provoke anyone. Do not attack anyone,” he said in a video broadcast on social media. “I will speak this afternoon and it will be broadcast on television. Before that, do not set fire to petrol stations or this district. Calm down, please! Calm down!”

His remarks came as Keita warned that security would be maintained “with no signs of weakness”, while indicating his willingness “to do everything possible to calm the situation”.

The opposition’s call for civil disobedience includes the non-payment of fines and blocking entry to state buildings.

Demonstrators attacked parliament and ransacked the national television station on Friday, only dispersing when security forces opened fire.

This level of violence is rare in Bamako, which has been spared much of the unrest that is routine across swaths of Mali.

The country has struggled to contain an armed rebellion 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