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Mali Police March on Prison, Free Commander Held in Protest Deaths Inquiry


FILE - Protesters demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita's resignation take to the streets in Bamako, Mali, June 19, 2020. One such protest sparked deadly clashes with police, and the eventual arrest of a commander for allegedly using brute force.

A special forces commander in Mali was freed on Friday after angry police officers marched to the prison where he was detained for allegedly using brute force to quash deadly protests last year.

The head of the police counterterrorism unit, Oumar Samake, had been held in the Sahel state over lethal skirmishes between security forces and opponents of ex-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Anti-Keita protests rocked Mali last year and eventually culminated in the president's ouster in a military coup.

One such protest on July 10, 2020, sparked several days of deadly clashes with security forces.

Mali's political opposition said at the time that 23 people were killed during the unrest. The United Nations reported that 14 protesters were killed, including two children.

FILE - Protesters demand the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at Independence Square in Bamako, Mali, June 5, 2020.
FILE - Protesters demand the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at Independence Square in Bamako, Mali, June 5, 2020.

An investigation was opened into the killings in December 2020.

Police special-forces commander Samake was detained Friday for his alleged role in the violence, a senior legal official told AFP.

But the move infuriated police officers, some of whom marched on the prison in the capital, Bamako, where he was held.

Prison guard Yacouba Toure told AFP that large numbers of well-armed policemen turned up at the jail.

"We did not resist," he said, adding that police left with Samake "without incident."

A justice ministry official, who requested anonymity, said the government decided to free Samake "for the sake of peace."

"This is not a court decision," the official said, adding that the investigation into Samake would continue.

The dramatic events underscored the sensitivity of such investigations in chronically unstable Mali.

The country's military deposed Keita in August 2020 after weeks of protests fueled by grievances over alleged corruption and the president's inability to stop the long-running jihadist conflict.

Army officers then installed a civilian-led interim government to steer Mali back toward democratic rule. But military strongman Colonel Assimi Goita deposed these civilian leaders in May in a second coup.

Goita has pledged to restore civilian rule and stage elections in February next year.

However, there are doubts about whether the government will be able to hold elections within such a short time frame.

Mali has been struggling to quell a brutal jihadist insurgency, which emerged in 2012 and left swaths of the vast nation outside government control.

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