West African presidents called for the formation of a unity government in Mali on Monday amid renewed efforts to resolve a political crisis that has seen tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
The heads of states – who visited Mali last week as part of a delegation from the regional ECOWAS bloc – said members of the opposition should join the new government, and threatened sanctions against anybody undermining the process.
Mali’s cabinet said it had begun negotiations with “concerned parties”, but the opposition coalition leading the protests, M5-RFP, appeared unhappy with the ECOWAS plan, having rejected a similar one put forward by the bloc earlier this month.
“We take note, but we really believe that this is not the will of the people, it is not what we expect,” a coalition spokesman, Nouhoum Togo, told Reuters.
Political tensions have been rising across Mali since a disputed legislative election in March. Some results were later overturned by the country’s constitutional court in a decision perceived to benefit Keita’s party, sparking protests in different cities.
Protesters are also unhappy with the state of the economy, perceived government corruption, and Keita’s failure to stem rising jihadist and inter-communal violence in the country after seven years in power.
The latest ECOWAS plan calls for a partial re-run of the March polls and an inquiry into the deaths of at least 11 protesters during recent clashes with security forces in the capital, Bamako.
– Philip Kleinfeld