Bamako, Mali, Jul 13 – Mali’s worried allies and neighbours have appealed for restraint and dialogue as the country’s deepening political crisis spirals into bloodshed.
The situation remained tense on Monday, after three days of unrest in the capital Bamako, as gunfire was heard in an opposition stronghold in the city.
Representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS late Sunday voiced their concern over the recent clashes.
Condemning “any form of violence as a means of crisis resolution”, they attacked the use of lethal force by the security forces and urged dialogue, but warned the arrest of protest leaders was an obstacle to this.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is facing a mounting wave of protests sparked by the outcome of a long-delayed parliamentary poll, but whose underlying causes include discontent over his handling of Mali’s jihadist insurgency.
The 75-year-old has been in power since 2013.
Eleven people have died and 124 have been injured since Friday, according to a senior official at an emergency department of a major hospital in Bamako.
Witnesses said security forces fired live rounds during clashes with protesters, with the civil unrest the worst the country has seen in years.
Hundreds of people converged on the district of Badalabougou on Sunday for the funerals of four people killed in the violence.
The well-off neighbourhood is a stronghold of influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who has emerged as a leader of the protest movement.
He has appealed for calm on Sunday after deadly clashes between his supporters and security forces.
But rounds of gunfire were again heard in Badalabougou on Monday, although it was not immediately clear whether the incident was isolated or part of further demonstrations.
Elsewhere in Bamako, a measure of calm returned as traffic again began to circulate on two of the city’s main bridges — major choke points that protesters had targeted.
All banks remained shut, however.
The demonstrations are being driven by a disparate group of religious leaders, political and civil society members that calls itself the June 5 Movement.
They have called for “civil disobedience”, including non-payment of fines and blocking entry to state buildings.
– ‘Consensus government’ –
Mali’s European allies and regional partners are anxious, given the country’s poverty, ethnic mix and strategic location at the heart of the Sahel.
Sunday’s statement voiced support for proposals put forward by ECOWAS, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States of which Mali is a member.
The proposals call for a “consensus government of national union” and for fresh elections in constituencies whose provisional results, in the March-April elections, had been annulled by the Constitutional Court, a move that enabled several members of Keita’s party to be elected.
It also urged Keita to release opposition leaders who have been arrested since Friday.
Malian Prime Minister Boubou Cisse visited Dicko on Sunday night, according to officials close to the imam, in an indication of attempts at dialogue.
No details from that meeting have yet emerged.
Keita has already made several attempts to ease the anger, including a promise to dissolve the court.
The former French colony has struggled to contain an Islamist insurgency 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.
The UN has deployed 13,000 soldiers to Mali in one of its biggest peacekeeping operations, while France has 5,100 troops in its Barkhane anti-jihadist mission across the Sahel.
A joint EU special ops force called Takuba is to begin deployment on Wednesday, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said Sunday.
A first batch of around 100 French and Estonian troops will be joined later by contingents from the Czech Republic and Sweden, Parly told the French daily La Croix, adding that Italy may also take part.