Mali opposition leaders freed after days of anti-gov’t protests

Some 20 leaders released in apparent bid by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to calm the deadly unrest.

Protesters gather in front of the Salam mosque of Badalabougou, where the influent Imam Mahmoud Dicko led a prayer dedicated to the victims of the clashes of the past two days in Bamako
Protesters gather in front of Salam Mosque in Bamako where influential imam Mahmoud Dicko led a prayer dedicated to victims of the clashes [Michele Cattani/AFP]

Malian authorities have freed some 20 political opponents arrested by the security forces during a wave of deadly protests calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign.

Their release on Monday is an apparent bid by Keita to calm tensions sparked by the outcome of a long-delayed parliamentary poll, but whose underlying causes include discontent over his handling of armed groups in Mali. The 75-year-old has been in power since 2013.

Mali’s capital Bamako remains tense after a rally on Friday turned violent, with security forces reportedly firing live rounds and tear gas to disperse protesters, who blocked bridges, stormed the premises of the state broadcaster, and attacked the parliament building.

At least 11 people have died, and nearly 150 others have been wounded since Friday, according to a hospital official in Bamako, where the clashes continued over the weekend and Monday, with much of the tension focused in the opposition-supporting Badalabougou neighbourhood.

The well-off neighbourhood is a stronghold of influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who has emerged as a leader of the worst civil unrest the country has seen in years.

The demonstrations are being driven by the M5-RFP, a disparate group of religious leaders, political and civil society members calling for “civil disobedience”, including non-payment of fines and blocking entry to state buildings.

On Monday, the M5-RFP said 20 people had been killed since Friday, but Mali’s health ministry confirmed 11 deaths.

The M5-RFP has rejected concessions offered by Keita as insufficient, including his offer to dissolve the constitutional court.

Monday’s clashes came after the UN mission in Mali, the African Union, West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the EU jointly criticised Malian authorities for their response to the protests.

The organisations “condemn the use of lethal force in the context of maintaining public order and invite all stakeholders to exercise restraint”, they said in a statement late on Sunday.

The former French colony 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 to flee their homes.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies