Mali political crisis: ruling party offices ransacked, social media restricted

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Protesters ransacked a building belonging to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s political party on Sunday, underscoring the tensions that remain in Mali, even after the president met one of their top demands.

The latest unrest at a neighborhood headquarters for Keita’s RPM party came as mourners returned from funerals to bury several of the victims who have died during political demonstrations in recent days, witnesses said.

Only hours earlier, the president had announced in a televised speech that he had dissolved the constitutional court as demanded by the opposition movement and was willing to consider re-doing contested legislative elections.

I would like once again to reassure our people of my willingness to continue the dialogue and reiterate my readiness to take all measures in my power to calm the situation.

The movement’s leaders are no longer calling for the resignation of Keita, who has three years left in his final term. But Sunday’s unrest showed there are still elements deeply dissatisfied with his leadership.

Social media restrictions still in place

Internet rights group, NetBlocks reported late last week that data from its internet observatory confirmed that social media and messaging apps were partially blocked in Mali on Friday 10 July 2020 amid mass protests.

Demonstrators seeking political reforms, some calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s resignation, occupied the national broadcaster in Bamako sending transmissions off air. Internet restrictions affecting most but not all users have continued to Monday afternoon and the incident is ongoing as of the latest update.

Social media platforms Twitter and Facebook and messaging apps WhatsApp and Messenger remained restricted with Mali’s leading cellular operator Orange 10:30 p.m. UTC / local time Friday as tensions peaked and continued as of Monday 13 January 2020, with issues also observed on Malitel and other networks over the weekend.

Affected users are able to regain access via VPN services which circumvent internet censorship by tunnelling to other countries. Listed platforms remain blocked or degraded as of Monday while other online services and websites continue to function normally on restricted networks.

Weekend of tensions and concessions

Eleven people were killed in the violent demonstrations held Friday and Saturday, officials said. The police crackdown now threatens to further escalate the crisis, with one political party already criticizing the government for deploying anti-terrorism forces to the streets during the demonstrations.

Dissolving Mali’s constitutional court had been a top demand for the protesters because the body had released official results from legislative elections this spring that now are being disputed by several dozen candidates. Keita also told Malians he was willing to consider re-doing the legislative elections in those areas, saying such concessions are needed to save Mali from further violence.

“We must go beyond ourselves and only consider Mali,” the president said in his televised address late Saturday.

The president, who was elected in 2013 and won a second term five years later, had promised last week to dissolve the court. Demonstrators, though, have said they also want the National Assembly dissolved, a move Keita has yet to endorse.

July 11: Mali president calls for dialogue amid crippling protests

Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita went on national television early Saturday, urging dialogue with his opponents just hours after thousands of anti-government protesters marched through the capital with some pushing their way into state television offices.

Friday’s developments marked a major escalation in the growing movement against Mali’s president, who still has two years left in office in this West African country long destabilized by Islamic extremists.

Earlier in the day, anti-government protesters had barricaded roads and burned tires in the capital, Bamako.

Keita’s overnight address to the nation took a conciliatory gesture days after he had tried to appease the protesters by promising to revamp the constitutional court whose legislative election results back in April have been disputed by several dozen candidates.

“I would like once again to reassure our people of my willingness to continue the dialogue and reiterate my readiness to take all measures in my power to calm the situation,” he said in closing.

The movement against Keita’s government is now known as the June 5 Movement, or M5, a reflection of when demonstrators first took to the streets en masse. Keita’s gestures in recent days so far have failed to win favor with the opposition group, which still wants the National Assembly dissolved.

While the group has officially backed down from its calls that Keita leave office, some protesters still want him gone.

Keita came to power in the aftermath of a French-led military operation to oust Islamic extremists from power in northern Mali’s towns in 2013, winning the first democratic elections organized after a military coup the year before.

Despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers, and French and regional forces backing Malian troops, the extremist groups have continued to mount attacks.

Last year was particularly deadly for the army as hundreds of soldiers were killed in the north, forcing the military at one point to even close down some of its most remote and vulnerable outposts. Those losses prompted criticism of how the government was handling the crisis in the north.

Tensions mounted in late April after legislative elections were held, and several dozen candidates disputed the official results issued by Mali’s constitutional court. A mission from the regional bloc known as ECOWAS has suggested that the government re-hold elections in the localities where results are contested.

The last democratically elected leader before Keita, President Amadou Toumani Toure, was overthrown in the 2012 military coup after a decade in power.

The political chaos that ensued has been blamed for creating a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic insurgency to take hold in the northern towns. Following international pressure, that coup leader later handed over power to a civilian transitional government that organized elections.

AP.

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