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Crowds protest sanctions, pressure, after Mali vote delay

BAMAKO, MALI (AP) – Thousands have joined in a government-sponsored rally in Mali’s capital to protest new regional economic sanctions and growing pressure from former coloniser France, after Mali’s military ruler pushed back promised elections by four years.

Friday’s demonstration at Bamako’s Independence Square drew Mali’s prime minister and other ministers in the transitional government, which is headed by Colonel Assimi Goita, who installed himself as president following a second military coup last year.

“These sanctions have three objectives: to destabilise the institutions, to destabilise the Malian army and to destabilise Mali,” Prime Minister Choguel Maiga told the crowds.

Demonstrators shouted: “Down with imperialism, down with ECOWAS, down with France.”

West Africa’s 15-nation ECOWAS regional bloc imposed tougher economic sanctions on Mali last Sunday, saying the transitional government had failed to make progress toward holding a presidential election as promised by the end of February – 18 months after Mali’s first coup led by Goita.

While previous sanctions had targetted members of the ruling junta and their families, the new measures effectively freeze the Republic of Mali’s assets in commercial banks. Most ECOWAS members also have stopped all air traffic to and from Bamako, though Mali has found an ally in neighbouring Guinea – also led by a military coup leader.

Thousands join a government-sponsored rally in Mali’s capital Bamako. PHOTO: AP