Thousands of protesters demand Mali president step down

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Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Tens of thousands protested in Bamako on Friday demanding the Malian president resign or face civil disorder despite political concessions offered in response to mounting frustration over the many crises afflicting the west African nation.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, is struggling with a years-long security crisis in northern Mali, an outbreak of the new coronavirus, a strike by teachers, and political tensions arising from a disputed legislative election in March.

For the second time this month, crowds of protesters – including representatives of various political groups and human rights activists – filled Bamako’s Independence Square, waiting for a response to a letter sent to the presidential palace demanding Keita, known as IBK, step down.

“We decide to maintain the mobilisation of all forces of the nation until the president resigns,” opposition politician Cheick Oumar Sissoko said in a speech that called for civil disobedience and the occupation of strategic locations if there was no reply to the letter.

Protesters chanted: “No to bad governance and corruption” and “It’s too much. IBK, clear off!”

A delegation from regional bloc ECOWAS arrived in Bamako on the eve of the protest to encourage talks between the two sides – a sign of governments’ concern about the political standoff on their doorstep.

After the first demonstration on June 5, Keita offered to make concessions including the creation of a unity government. But protesters were not satisfied.

“I’m here for the second time to tell IBK to step down. He can’t govern this country as proved by his last seven years in power,” said 26-year-old street trader Aboubacar Sidiki.

Mali, which produces gold and cotton, has struggled to find stability since 2012 when jihadist fighters hijacked an insurrection by Tuareg separatists, seizing the entire desert north of the country.

French troops helped to recapture the north but violence persists, despite the presence of thousands of United Nations troops, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State stoking intercommunal tensions.

Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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