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Hundreds of Malians Protest Extension of Interim Government

  • Anne Look

Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako, May 21, 2012.

Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako, May 21, 2012.

BAMAKO - Hundreds of Malians took to the streets Monday to protest an agreement just signed between West African mediators and the leader of this March's military coup that keeps an interim civilian president in place for one year, to organize elections. A mob forced its way into the presidential palace and attacked the interim president, who is being treated for injuries.

Hundreds of protestors forced their way into the office of Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, Monday, demanding he resign.

The president's chief of staff, Souleymane Niafo, says that the mob beat up the president. Niafo said Traore is now being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

Protestors showed a VOA reporter pieces of fabric they claimed to have ripped from Traore's jacket.

Many of the protestors had marched to the palace from a large gathering outside a conference center where the Coalition of Malian Patriotic Organizations, known as COPAM, was meeting inside to select its own interim president, expected to be announced Tuesday.

"Down with ECOWAS. ECOWAS cannot choose Mali's president," protesters shouted, growing increasingly heated at the sight of a Western journalist.

A few held small signs that read "Mali is a sovereign nation. Let us decide."

Protesters used blue metal chairs and hunks of rock to barricade intersections in the blocks surrounding the conference center.

Meeting inside were political, labor and civil society leaders opposed to the deal struck between junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo and West African regional bloc ECOWAS.

A leader of COPAM, politician Ahmed Ag Akeratane, says they supported the National Committee for the Recovery of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, or CNRDRE, as the junta is known. He says the CNRDRE may have signed an agreement with ECOWAS but that doesn't concern them. He says ECOWAS is not going to come and tell them how to run their country.

Monday marks two months since an army mutiny spiraled into an impromptu military coup. Soldiers, calling themselves the CNRDRE, ousted the nation's elected leader less than a month before a presidential election.

Many in Mali cheered the coup back in late March. The event seemed to open the floodgates on a deep-seated frustration and distrust of the political elite that some say had long been seething beneath Mali's democratic veneer.

Since then, ECOWAS has pushed hard for a return to civilian rule.

Sunday's agreement says interim President Diouncounda Traore will remain in charge of the transition. It recognizes Captain Sanogo as a former head of state, complete with all the accompanying status and privileges.

Interim president Traore is viewed by some as an ally of ousted president Amadou Toumani Toure.

Traore's 40-day interim mandate, as prescribed by the constitution, was set to expire Tuesday.

Captain Sanogo had proposed a national convention be held to select a new leader for the transition. He bowed this weekend to ECOWAS demands that Traore stay in place.

However, despite protests, not everyone is opposed the agreement.

In a busy market in downtown Bamako, vendors said they are eager to see life, and business, to get back to normal. Many pointed to the security crisis in the north, where armed groups now control two-thirds of the nation's territory.

Djibril Maiga says instead of continuing to bicker about politics here in Bamako, they first need to save the north. However, he says he does not support foreign troops coming in to help. He says the problem should be left to the Malian army.

Armed groups in the north took advantage of the chaos in the days following the coup to quickly push south, effectively cutting the country in half.

Tuareg separatists have declared an independent state, while Islamist militants have rejected independence and begun imposing Sharia law in northern towns. Tens of thousands of Malians have fled the region.
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