June 5, 2020

Thousands of protesters demand Mali leader step down

Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, protest

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Thousands of people rallied in Mali’s capital Bamako on Friday demanding the departure of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, as the war-torn West African state struggles to contain jihadist violence.

The protest follows several demonstrations last month over the outcome of March’s parliamentary elections — which the president’s party won — as well as over coronavirus restrictions.

On Friday, about 10,000 people amassed on a central square in Bamako, AFP journalists said, to the blare of vuvuzela horns.

Some protesters waved banners bearing slogans such as “IBK, get out,” using the acronym by which the president is popularly known.

Others had banners demanding the liberation of Soumaila Cisse, a former prime minister and opposition leader who was kidnapped in volatile central Mali on March 25 while campaigning for the parliamentary election.

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Mali’s newly formed opposition alliance, which includes the main opposition parties as well as civil society groups, organised Friday’s demonstration.

Led by religious hardliner Mahmoud Dicko, the alliance has called Keita’s government “chaotic” and has accused it of failing to tackle worsening security in the country, and a flagging economy.

Dicko is a prominent imam who was seen as close to President Keita, before he entered politics a few months ago.

Keita was elected in 2013, and won a second five-year term again in 2018.

During the president’s time in office, however, the government has struggled to quell jihadist violence that first broke out in northern Mali in 2012, and which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians to date.

The conflict has since spread to the centre of the country, as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

March’s long-delayed parliamentary poll also provoked protests last month, after some seat results were disputed.

Holding the election was seen as a step towards solving Mali’s crisis.