One dead as protest against Mali president turns violent


Bamako (AFP)

One person was killed and 20 people injured in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday, a hospital official said, during a mass rally against embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Thousands initially gathered in a central city square to demand that Keita resign over the country's long-running jihadist conflict, economic woes and perceived government corruption.

But the protest afterwards descended into violence -- seldom seen in the West African state's capital -- as protesters blocked main thoroughfares, attacked the parliament and stormed the premises of the state broadcaster.

"We have recorded one death in the morgue," said Yamadou Diallo, a doctor in Bamako's Gabriel Toure hospital, who added that 20 people had been wounded.

An official from the prime minister's office also confirmed the death.

The circumstances under which people were wounded and one person was killed were not immediately clear.

The protest, organised by a new opposition coalition, is the third such demonstration in two months -- significantly escalating pressure on the 75-year-old president.

Led by influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the so-called June 5 movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in war-torn Mali.

Keita this week unsuccessfully floated political reforms in a bid to appease opponents, but did not accede to demands from the political opposition to dissolve the parliament and form a transition government.

-- Barricades, burning tyres --

Many protesters on Friday carried placards bearing anti-government slogans and blowing vuvuzela horns, AFP reporters saw.

"We don't want this regime any more," said one of the demonstrators, Sy Kadiatou Sow.

Protesters later erected barricades and set tyres alight on two of the main bridges across the river Niger that runs through Bamako, according to AFP journalists, and entered the courtyard of state broadcaster ORTM.

ORTM television channels were off air on Friday afternoon, an AFP journalist said.

AFP was unable to immediately confirm the reason the channels were off air.

National guardsmen also fired tear gas at protesters hurling stones at the parliament building.

The country has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that first emerged in the north in 2012, before spreading to the centre of the country and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.

-- 'Civil disobedience' --

Opposition leaders on Friday also published a ten-point document calling for civil disobedience.

Recommendations for actions laid out in the document included not paying fines, blocking entry to state buildings -- except hospitals -- and occupying crossroads.

Friday's demonstration follows an attempt by Keita on Wednesday to appease growing opposition to his government by offering to appoint new judges to the constitutional court.

The court has been at the centre of controversy in Mali since April 29, when it overturned the provisional results for March's parliamentary poll for about 30 seats.

That move saw several members of Keita's party elected to the parliament and triggered protests in several cities.

It is also widely as having ignited the country's latest political crisis.

Keita suggested in a televised speech on Wednesday that appointing new judges would mean that the constitutional court could revisit its earlier decision.

But the speech fell on deaf ears among Mali's opposition leaders, who had been demanding that the president dissolve the parliament and form a transition government.

Issa Kaou Djim, a member of the political opposition, said that efforts at dialogue with Keita had failed.

"Now, no one considers him the president. But everything we are going to do will be done within a democratic and republican framework," he added.

Keita is on increasingly shaky political ground as protests continue, alarming the international community which is keen to avoid Mali sliding into chaos.