Four African leaders head to Mali amid political crisis
Malian leaders are gearing up for more mediation talks on Thursday, when four African presidents will fly to the country in a bid to resolve its deepening political crisis.
The leaders of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal and Niger are all due to arrive in the country, according to an official from Mali's presidency, saying that their visit concerned the impasse but did not elaborate.
Thursday's talks follow on the heels of a mediation mission from the West Africa bloc ECOWAS, which ended Sunday after failing to reconcile the president with the political opposition.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been locked in a standoff for weeks with the opposition June 5 Movement, and the conflict spiralled into violent clashes earlier this month, leaving 11 dead.
Opposition figures have been tapping into a wellspring of anger over the president's perceived failures in tackling the dire economy, corruption and the country's eight-year-old jihadist conflict.
Many Malians are also incensed at the outcome of long-delayed parliamentary elections in March and April that handed victory to Keita's party.
But the current crisis came to a head on July 10, after an anti-Keita rally organised by the June 5 Movement turned violent.
Protesters blocked key bridges in the capital Bamako, stormed the premises of the state broadcaster, and attacked the parliament.
Three days of clashes between protesters and security forces followed, leaving 11 dead and 158 injured, according to an official tally, in the worst political unrest Mali had seen in years.
The ECOWAS mission on Sunday suggested the formation of a new unity government including opposition members, as well as the appointment of new judges to constitutional court who could potentially re-examine disputed election results.
But the June 5 Movement had earlier rejected any outcome that does not include Keita's departure — a demand opposition leaders have insisted on for weeks.
The movement is a disparate alliance of political, social and civil society leaders gathered around powerful imam Mahmoud Dicko, who is seen as its de facto leader though he is not a formal member.
Neither Keita nor Dicko had commented on the failed ECOWAS effort by Monday.
'Radical change' urged
Mali's neighbours and international allies are anxious to avoid a slide into chaos in the poor Sahel nation of some 20 million people.
The former French colony has been struggling to contain a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the north in 2012 before spreading to the centre.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict, and hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes.
Keita, who came to power in 2013, has been under increasing pressure to stop the fighting.
But much of the current tension in Mali was sparked in April, when the constitutional court tossed out 31 results from the parliamentary elections, sparking protests.
Many Malians were awaiting Dicko's next move after the ECOWAS mission ended on Sunday.
A European diplomat, who declined to be named, told AFP that Dicko had met foreign ambassadors on Monday, telling them that “the doors of dialogue are not closed, but Mali's governance must radically change”.
ECOWAS mediators had also said Sunday that they would set up a technical committee to oversee their recommendations, suggesting that talks between the warring parties may continue.
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