Malians demonstrate en masse after junta calls for demonstrations against sanctions

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Malians took to the streets by the thousands on Friday, AFP correspondents saw, after the military junta called for protests against harsh sanctions imposed by the West African bloc ECOWAS following the postponement of elections.

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

Large crowds also gathered in the northern city of Timbuktu, AFP correspondents reported. Social media also showed mass protests in the southern towns of Kadiolo and Bougouni.

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

The move follows a proposal by Mali’s junta to stay in power for up to five years before holding elections – despite international demands that it stick to its promise to hold the vote in February.

The junta called the sanctions “extreme” and “inhumane” and called for protests.

Colonel Assimi Goita, who first took power in a coup in August 2020, also urged Malians to “defend our homeland”.

On Friday, his office said the caretaker government had drawn up a “response plan” to the potentially crippling sanctions, without specifying details.

He added that the government remained open to dialogue with regional institutions and did not intend to engage in a “standoff”.

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

The sanctions threaten to hurt an already vulnerable economy in landlocked Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries.

A brutal jihadist insurgency has also raged in Mali since 2012, with swaths of the country’s vast territory slipping out of government control.

‘Cut’ Mali is already beginning to feel the effects of the sanctions. Several airlines, including Air France, have suspended their flights to Bamako.

The country also risks running out of cash. Kako Nubukpo, commissioner for the West African Economic and Monetary Union, said she was “cut off from the rest of the world”.

France, the former colonial master of Mali, and the United States have both declared their support for the ECOWAS sanctions.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel said on Thursday that Brussels would follow ECOWAS in taking action against Mali over the delayed elections.

On the same day, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it was “absolutely essential that the Malian government present an acceptable electoral calendar”.

Despite international pressure, many Malians have rallied behind the military junta, with nationalist messages flooding social media.

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

Under the threat of sanctions following this putsch, Goita had promised to organize presidential and legislative elections and restore civilian rule by February 2022.

But he staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable for restoring democracy.

Goita also declared himself interim president.

His government has argued that endemic insecurity in Mali prevents it from holding safe elections by the end of February.

(AFP)

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