Mali anti-government protesters return to the streets after truce

Serge Daniel and Kassim Traore
·3 min read

Thousands of anti-government protesters returned to the streets in Mali Tuesday, resuming their months-long push to topple president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who they accuse of presiding over corruption and impunity in the poor Sahel nation.

Demonstrators gathered in a central square in the capital despite rainfall and pleas from mediators to stay at home, with many blowing plastic vuvuzela horns and brandishing anti-government banners. 

"We want real change in Mali, IBK get out," read one, referring to Keita's initials.

The gathering marks the first time the June 5 Movement has staged a protest since July, when the opposition group declared a temporary truce in their campaign to oust Keita.

The group has channelled deep anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and Mali's eight-year jihadist conflict.

Keita had "put in place an oligarchic and plutocratic system of predation based on corruption and impunity" that had destroyed Mali, the movement -- named after the date of its first protest -- said in a statement.

"This combat is to restore the Malian nation," Mahmoud Dicko, the Saudi-trained imam viewed as its figurehead, told protesters.  

"If IBK doesn't listen to us, he will see. I swear before God that he will see. But if we don't rush, we will win this victory." 

Late Tuesday night, many protesters remained encamped on the square with a handful of opposition leaders.

The demonstration went ahead despite a call to stay home from Nigeria's ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, a mediator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

"Demonstrations do not solve problems per se," Jonathan told a news conference late on Monday, urging opposition figures to enter into dialogue. 

The June 5 Movement has repeatedly spurned compromise proposals put forward by ECOWAS, insisting on Keita's resignation. 

It added in the statement on Tuesday that the president had resorted to "scornful silence" and "simulated solutions" in response to opposition demands. 

"Keita's... misgovernance dangerously threatens the very existence of our country as a state," the statement said.

- Mediation flop -

Mali's political impasse has struck fear into the former French colony's neighbours and allies, who are keen to prevent it from sliding into chaos. 

Tensions snowballed into crisis last month when 11 people died during three days of unrest following an anti-Keita protest, in the worst political strife the country has seen in years. 

The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc stepped in to mediate. On July 27, the bloc's heads of government stuck by Keita, but proposed the formation of a new unity government, among other measures. 

The June 5 Movement has rejected the proposals, however.

Nigeria's Jonathan, who had already led a mediation mission to Mali in mid-July, made a surprise return to Bamako on Monday, when he met the president and opposition figures.

Still, there is little indication that the impasse can be overcome, as anti-Keita protests have gone ahead despite Jonathan's admonitions. 

Dicko, addressing protesters on Tuesday, said that it was time for Malians to talk among themselves.

"Even if we don't like the way they did it, we thank ECOWAS for its gesture," the influential imam said. 

- Constitutional Court -

Keita, who first came to power in 2013, has meanwhile attempted to follow the ECOWAS recommendations. 

He swore in nine new judges to the Constitutional Court on Monday, which formed part of ECOWAS efforts to resolve an election dispute that has contributed to the crisis.

Much of Mali's current tension was sparked in April, when the Constitutional Court threw out 30 results from long-delayed parliamentary elections -- a move that benefited Keita's party, but triggered protests.

The MPs occupying those seats, however, have refused to step down. They are drawn from both Keita's party and from opposition parties.

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