Opponents of last week's military coup in Mali staged a demonstration in the capital, Bamako, on Monday. A new political and civil society front is calling on coup leaders to negotiate a rapid return to civilian rule, as international pressure grows on the junta to step aside.
This student leader was among people who gathered at a national labor office in Bamako to denounce the coup. He sparked cheers when he demanded the military return to the front, to defend Mali’s territorial integrity. He said the military exists to protect the people and not to threaten the people.
A while later people chanted ‘ORTM! ORTM!’ - the name of the state television station that has been taken over by the junta. Part of the crowd left to march toward the station.
People present said at least 2,000 people had gathered for the demonstration. It was arranged by a new political alliance called the United Front for the Restoration of Democracy, which is seeking the immediate restoration of law and civilian rule in Mali.
Their moves comes amid strong international condemnation of the coup. The African Union has suspended the country. The United Nations has said the junta must go. France and the United States say they continue to recognize Amadou Toumani Touré as Mali’s president. The European Union, the World Bank and the African Development Bank have suspended development aid to Mali.
Oumar Hamadoun Dicko, a former government minister, told VOA from the rally that the new alliance includes members of some 40 political parties, members of parliament, workers’ unions, student groups and other civil society organizations.
He says the alliance is demanding a restoration of law, the release of civilians detained after the coup, open and transparent elections as soon as possible, and an end to looting. He says the alliance wants "An end to this anarchic situation that threatens the Malian state after all the progress toward democracy the country has made over the years."
It was 21 years ago that Amadou Toumani Touré led a coup ousting the longtime dictator Moussa Traoré. Touré eventually stepped aside, then came back years later to win two presidential elections.
Tieman Coulibaly, head of a Malian political party and one of the alliance’s founders, expressed concern about the increased isolation of Mali because of the recent military coup.
Coulibaly says the isolation by African and international organizations is putting Mali in a precarious state. He says Mali has been shunned by the outside world and as it is, the state is not functioning. "We are nearing the end of the month," he says, "and civil servants must be paid; we have problems with gasoline supplies."
He told VOA the military and civilians alike have a role in resolving the situation.
He says, "We absolutely must avoid chaos inside Mali and this isolation by the international community. The pressure is on not only the coup leaders but also on civil society and political parties - this is why we must unite and act now."
The alliance is finalizing the details of an action plan and expects to send a delegation to present it to coup leader Amadou Sanogo.
At least one political party, known as Sadi, has expressed support for the coup.
The renegade soldiers say they took power in order to launch a more effective response to the rebellion in northern Mali, but the immediate result has been quite the opposite, with rebels pushing to take advantage of disorder to advance in northern towns.