Mali opposition calls fresh anti-govt protests

BAMAKO (AFP) – Mali’s opposition announced fresh protests against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Monday, including a women’s march and protest caravans planned this week in the poor Sahel state.

Speaking at a press conference in the capital Bamako, representatives of the June 5 Movement (M5) said the series of protests would begin and culminate in a mass rally on Friday.

“The M5 has decided to step up its actions to get President IBK,” said one the group’s leaders, Ibrahim Ikassa Maiga, using the initials by which Keita is known.

The call comes after Mali’s opposition last week spurned pressure to enter dialogue from the 15-nation West Africa bloc ECOWAS, which is keen to help prevent the fragile country from sliding into chaos.

The nation of some 19 million people is mired in a deep political impasse as the June 5 Movement insists on Keita’s resignation.

So called after the date of its first protest, the movement has been channelling deep anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and an eight-year extremist conflict.

But its campaign to topple Keita plunged Mali into crisis last month, when at least 11 people were killed in clashes with security forces during three days of unrest following a protest.

In a bid to resolve the deepening crisis, ECOWAS heads of government recommended forming a unity government on July 27, among other measures.

The June 5 Movement has rejected the ECOWAS proposals, however, and continues to insist on Keita’s departure.

On Monday, the group said that “awareness-raising caravans” of thousands of vehicles would criss-cross the streets of Bamako until tomorrow.