Malians demonstrate en masse after junta calls for protests against sanctions

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Malians took to the streets on Friday, AFP reporters saw, after the junta called for protests against tough sanctions imposed by the Community of West African Nations (ECOWAS) over the delayed elections.

In the capital, Bamako, thousands of people dressed in the national colors of red, yellow and green gathered in a central square for a rally organized by the military government.

A large crowd also gathered in the northern city of Timbuktu, AFP reporters reported. Social media also showed mass demonstrations in the southern towns of Kadiolo and Bokoni.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to punish Mali last week, imposing a trade embargo and closing borders, in a decision later backed by France, the United States and the European Union.

The move followed a proposal by Mali’s junta to remain in power for up to five years before elections – despite international demands to honor a promise to hold the vote in February.

The military council described the sanctions as “extremist” and “inhumane” and called for protests.

Colonel Asimi Gueta, who first took power in the August 2020 coup, also urged Malians to “defend our homeland”.

On Friday, his office said the interim government had drawn up a “response plan” for sanctions that could hamper sanctions, without giving details.

She added that the government remains open to dialogue with regional institutions and does not intend to engage in “hand-wrestling”.

In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, ECOWAS leaders have also halted financial aid to Mali and froze the country’s assets in the Central Bank of West African States.

Sanctions threaten to damage the already weak economy of landlocked Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries.

A brutal jihadist insurgency has also erupted in Mali since 2012, with swathes of the country’s vast territory falling outside government control.

‘to cut’

Mali is already feeling the effects of the sanctions. Several airlines, including Air France, have suspended their flights to Bamako.

The country is also at risk of cash shortages. “It is isolated from the rest of the world,” said Kaku Nobukpo, commissioner of the West African Economic and Monetary Union.

France, the former colonizer of Mali, and the United States have both announced their support for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sanctions.

On Thursday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that Brussels would follow the example of the Economic Community of West African States in taking action against Mali over the postponed elections.

On the same day, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “absolutely necessary for the Malian government to present an acceptable timetable for elections.”

Despite international pressure, many in Mali rallied behind the junta, with nationalist messages flooding social media.

Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since the coup led by Guetta in August 2020 against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Under threat of sanctions following that coup, Gueta promised to hold presidential and legislative elections, and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.

But he launched a second de facto coup d’état in May 2021, forcing an interim civilian government to disrupt the timetable for restoring democracy.

Goeta also declared himself interim president.

His government argued that Mali’s rampant insecurity prevented it from holding secure elections by the end of February.

(AFP)

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