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May 22, 2012

Attack on Mali's Interim President Sparks Condemnation

by Anne Look

BAMAKO, Mali - Mali residents are expressing shock at an attack on the country's interim president by protesters unhappy with an agreement to let him stay in office for a year. West African leaders have condemned the attack and threatened sanctions on those it finds responsible for trying to block a return to civilian government, two months after a military coup.

Tuesday marks the end of Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore's initial 40-day mandate.

However, the soldiers who ousted the nation's previous leader in March signed a deal Sunday with West African regional bloc ECOWAS.  The accord keeps Traore in charge for one year to organize elections.

Hundreds protested that agreement Monday in Bamako.

They screamed "Down with ECOWAS" and "Mali is a sovereign nation.  Mali can choose its own president."

Protesters broke down the door to Traore's office at the palace and beat him unconscious after demanding he step down.  

The interim leader has been released from the hospital where he was treated for what his staff said were not life-threatening head wounds.

Some see Traore as part of a much-disliked political elite.  As head of the National Assembly, Traore was designated by Mali's constitution to take the reins following the military coup.  

Speaking on state TV Monday night, interim Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra said what happened was shameful.  He called on those who took to the streets to stop protesting.  He said vandalism and looting are not what the country needs right now.

Banks were closed in Bamako Tuesday, fearing further unrest.  However, the capital was calm.

Malians, even those opposed to the ECOWAS decision, expressed shock and dismay at Monday's attack.

Diakite Boubacar says they should respect the institution of the presidency.  He says it is a question of Mali's honor.  He says he doesn't want Traore to stay in power, but he is against the attack.  He says they can deal with this situation without physically attacking him.

Suspicion has fallen on pro-junta soldiers who may have helped protesters enter the palace.

Bamako resident Fadala Toure asks how could a protest that began at 9 a.m. on the other side of the city wind up at the presidential palace?  She says she doesn't understand how people could have gotten inside to assault the president.  

ECOWAS says it is investigating how the attack could take place despite security at the palace. The bloc also says it will impose sanctions against those it finds to be orchestrating unrest aimed at derailing the return to constitutional order.

 U.N. Security Council representatives, on a visit to Ivory Coast Monday, reiterated their support for ECOWAS efforts in Mali.

Geraud Araud, France's permanent representative to the United Nations, says ECOWAS' diplomatic efforts have been conducted with a lot of courage, perseverance and determination to find a solution based on the departure of the military junta.  He says he doesn't want to say that these efforts have now failed but they have been put in considerable danger by these latest developments.  He says it may be necessary to consider other avenues.

The accord that junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo signed with ECOWAS Sunday gives him the status and privileges of a former head of state.  However, it is unclear what role he will play in the year to come.  The captain continued to exercise considerable influence even after Traore's interim government was put in place April 12.  

Northern Mali remains in the hands of armed groups that seized power in the days following the coup, effectively cutting the country in half.

ECOWAS has offered to deploy regional peacekeepers to Mali. The nation's military, already unable to halt the rebellion in the north earlier this year, is in shambles following the coup. Analysts say the situation in the north is unlikely to change in the near future.