Mali opposition leader dies of COVID-19

BAMAKO, MALI (AP) – Mali’s main opposition leader, Soumaila Cissé who was held hostage for six months earlier this year by extremists and was considered a leading contender in the 2022 presidential election, has died in Paris. He was 71.

Cissé died after contracting COVID-19, his eldest son Bocar told The Associated Press (AP) on Friday.

“The doctors did everything to keep him alive,” he said.

The death throws Malian politics into new uncertainty.

Cissé was the runner-up in the past three presidential elections and many thought he had the best chance of finally winning in 2022.

He was taken hostage in March while campaigning for legislative elections in his hometown of Niafunke in northern Mali.

Amid public pressure, the Malian government obtained his liberation in October, along with that of French and Italian hostages, in exchange for the release of around 200 extremists from Malian prisons.

It wasn’t known whether a ransom had been paid, though extremist groups have long funded their operations with such payments from European governments.

Mali opposition leader SoumailaCissé. PHOTO: AP