Mali local government administrators at the front line of organizing next month's presidential election launched a seven-day strike Monday demanding more security and allowances, two unions representing them said.
The administrators, who hold the rank of prefects or sub-prefects, are the government's representatives at the local level. They are in charge of organizing the July 29 vote, and said the strike will last until at least July 1, after talks with the government collapsed over the weekend.
"We are concerned about our safety and working conditions. We have requested benefits in accordance with regulations, but we have not been listened to," said Olivier Traore, secretary general of one of the unions.
The strike comes against a backdrop of growing security concerns and instability ahead of the election, and could impact the organization of the vote. France told Mali's government on Tuesday to react strongly after at least 16 Fulani herders were killed in the latest suspected ethnic clash.
The unions are also asking for increased security protection for members' offices and homes.
Ousmane Christian Diarra, a senior official of another union, said 54 prefects and their deputies, and 285 sub-prefects had walked out Monday and the strike was followed by nearly 100 percent of administrators across Mali.
"If at the end of the seven days we are not satisfied, as we said in the notice, the strike will be renewed automatically and will be unlimited until full satisfaction of our demands," Diarra said.
He added that the strike could impact the schedule of election preparation, including the distribution of voter cards, which is carried out by the administrators. It will also paralyze the central administration.
Distribution of the cards started on June 20 and was expected to run until July 27.
Mali has been in turmoil since Tuareg rebels and loosely allied Islamists took over its north in 2012, prompting French forces to intervene to push them back the following year. Those groups have since regained a foothold in the north and center.