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The United Nations’ Secretary General has called for calm and dialogue in Mali after tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the capital Bamako on Friday demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita step down.

Keita was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, but has struggled with a years-long security crisis, an outbreak of the new coronavirus, a strike by teachers, and political tensions arising from disputed local elections in March.

Friday’s angry protests were the second this month, and opposition leaders called for civil disobedience if certain demands were not met.

“The Secretary-General calls on all political leaders to send clear messages to their supporters to exercise utmost restraint and to refrain from any action likely to fuel tensions,” said Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General António Guterres.

Sclerotic pace of political reforms, a flagging economy and a widely shared perception of government corruption have also fed anti-Keita sentiment. 

On Friday, an imam led tens of thousands of protesters in a prayer in a central city square.  Protesters then sang the national anthem and blew vuvuzela horns, with many toting placards bearing anti-government slogans. 

The demonstration follows a similar rally on June 5 organised by a newly-formed coalition of opposition groups. That coalition has since adopted the name, “Movement of June 5 — Rally of Patriotic Forces.”

Uniting religious leaders and civil society figures, the coalition is channelling deep-seated frustration about the slow pace of progress and continuing bloodshed. At its head is Mahmoud Dicko, an imam and Islamic hardliner whose political star is rising in the war-torn country. 

The June 5 movement organised Friday’s protest, despite Keita’s pledge on Tuesday to form a new unity government that would include opposition figures.

Keita was elected president of the poor Sahel nation of some 19 million people in 2013, and won a second five-year term in 2018.

He has been pushed to make several concessions in recent days in response to mounting criticism, like raising the salaries of public teachers on Tuesday after a long-running pay dispute.

The president also extended an olive branch to the political opposition on Tuesday, proposing to form a unity government. But his efforts to appease opponents appear to have fallen on deaf ears. Dicko had earlier told reporters in Bamako that Friday’s protest would go ahead come what may. 

“He hasn’t learned his lesson, he doesn’t listen to people,” he had said. “But this time he will understand”. Mamadou Diakite, a 42-year-old teacher at Friday’s protest, told AFP that Keita had to step down. “We are here for the final victory, there is no negotiation possible,” he said. 

 (AFP & Reuters)



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