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West African bloc shuts borders with Mali, vows sanctions over military coup

Masked soldiers arrive at Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali on August 18, 2020.
Masked soldiers arrive at Independence Plaza in Bamako, Mali on August 18, 2020. © AFP
3 min

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Tuesday it had decided to close its member states' borders with Mali after mutinying soldiers detained President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

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ECOWAS, which includes Mali, said in a statement it was suspending all financial flows between its 14 other member states and Mali and suspending Mali from its internal decision-making bodies.

The bloc also said that its members would close land and air borders with Mali and pledged to demand sanctions against "all the putschists and their partners and collaborators".

"ECOWAS has noted with great concern the seizure of power by Malian military putschists," said the statement, which was originally published in French.

Rebel soldiers arrested Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Prime Minister Boubou Cisse on Tuesday afternoon following weeks of political tension in the country.

Keita, who was detained at gunpoint, announced his resignation and dissolved parliament in a brief address broadcast overnight on state television.

Minutes later, the apparent coup leaders said they would enact a political transition and stage elections within a "reasonable time".

On Wednesday, the West African regional G5 Sahel task-force demanded the release of Keita and other senior officials.

"The Presidents of the G5 Sahel wish to express their unwavering attachment to constitutional order and to the respect of democratically established institutions," the group said in a statement. 

Mali has been in the grip of a deep political impasse since June, with Keita facing increasingly strident demands for his resignation. 

The opposition June 5 Movement, named for the date of its first protest, has been channelling deep anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and a brutal jihadist conflict.

July mediation effort

The opposition alliance's anti-Keita campaign veered into crisis last month when at least 11 people were killed over three days of unrest that followed a protest.

In an effort to avoid chaos in notoriously unstable Mali, ECOWAS then stepped in to mediate. 

The bloc suggested the formation of a unity government and other measures late last month, but stuck by Keita. 

But the June 5 Movement has repeatedly spurned compromise proposals, and has continued to demand Keita's departure. 

The political opposition declared a new phase of anti-government rallies on Monday.

Landlocked Mali has struggled to regain stability since Tuareg uprising in 2012 which was hijacked by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda, and a subsequent coup in the capital plunged the country into chaos.

Keita, 75, came to power in 2013 following the Bamako coup, promising to bring peace and stability and fight corruption. He won reelection for a second five-year term in 2018.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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