Malian president dissolves constitutional court in bid to calm deadly unrest
Mali's embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita announced the dissolution of the constitutional court late Saturday in an attempt to calm the deadly civil unrest gripping the vulnerable African country, as more opposition leaders were arrested.
The court has been at the centre of controversy in Mali after it overturned provisional results for a parliamentary poll earlier this year, triggering protests in several cities that on Friday descended into violence.
Keita said he had repealed the licences of all remaining members of the constitutional court so that new judges could be appointed from next week.
"The reformed court can quickly help us find solutions to the disputes arising from the legislative elections," he said in an evening television address.
Following a long-delayed parliamentary poll in March – which Keita's party won – the court overturned the provisional results for about 30 seats, a move that saw several members of Keita's party elected and is widely viewed as having ignited the latest crisis.
Teens killed in clashes, opposition leaders arrested
Clashes raged again in the capital Bamako on Saturday as demonstrators – angered by a long-running jihadist conflict, economic woes and perceived government corruption – demanded Keita’s resignation.
Four people, including two teenagers, were killed in violence that raged in Bamako on Saturday and through the night, according to a hospital official.
"Among the four dead civilians we have two minors aged 15 and 17," a senior emergency room official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile Mali’s opposition coalition said security forces detained two leaders of anti-government protests and raided its headquarters on Saturday.
The opposition coalition M5-RFP said Choguel Kokala Maiga and Mountaga Tall, two senior figures in the movement, were detained along with other activists on Saturday. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested Friday.
In addition, security forces "came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters", M5-RFP spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.
The arrests represent a new low in relations between the opposition and the authorities, who did not crack down after two large-scale, peaceful protests against the president in June.
Authorities say six opposition figures have been detained in two days as the government cracks down on an alliance known as the June 5 Movement.
'Open to dialogue'
During a visit to a Bamako hospital Saturday, Prime Minister Boubou Cissé called for calm. "The president and I remain open to dialogue," Cissé said, adding that he would quickly form a government ready to deal with the country's problems.
But almost as he spoke, a June 5 Movement spokesman told reporters that gendarmes had arrested Maiga and Tall.
Later Saturday, security forces turned up at the house of another opposition leader, Sy Kadiatou Sow, but were unable to find him, said a member of his family who did not want to be named.
Fears of influential imam's arrest
Led by influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, the movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the West African country.
Friday's protest was the third such demonstration in less than two months, significantly escalating pressure on the president.
As flaming roadblocks appeared around Bamako on Saturday, the atmosphere was electric around the mosque where Dicko preaches, with his supporters seemingly afraid that the imam would be arrested.
Security forces used live ammunition as clashes broke out, seriously wounding several men, according to associates of Dicko who published photos of the injuries.
'Step up' pressure
Keita warned Saturday that security would be maintained "with no signs of weakness", while indicating his willingness "to do everything possible to calm the situation".
Meanwhile the alliance called on the public "to maintain and step up this mobilisation until the aim is achieved, which is the resignation of the president".
The opposition's call for civil disobedience includes the non-payment of fines and blocking entry to state buildings.
Demonstrators attacked parliament and ransacked the national television station on Friday, only dispersing when the security forces opened fire.
This level of violence is rare in Bamako, which has been spared much of the unrest that is routine across swathes of Mali.
The country has struggled 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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
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