Malians rally after army calls for protests over ECOWAS sanctions | European Union News

Malians took to the streets in droves after the country’s ruling military called for a protest against tough sanctions imposed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) over the election delay.

Thousands of people dressed in the national colors of red, yellow and green gathered in a central square in the Malian capital on Friday for a rally organized by the military government.

People flocked to Bamako’s Independence Square with banners reading “Down with the ECOWAS” and “Down with France”, singing patriotic songs.

Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Haque, from Dakar in neighboring Senegal, said Friday’s protests swelled to reach thousands of people across the country.

Haq said the people had come together to “defy the sanctions”, as well as to “show support for Mali’s leadership.”

Leaders of the 15-nation ECOWAS group agreed to punish Mali last week, imposing a trade embargo and closing its members’ land and air borders with the country.

The move, which was later backed by the United States, the European Union and former colonial power France, followed a proposal by the Malian army to hold elections in December 2025 instead of February as originally agreed.

The military described the sanctions as “extremist” and “inhumane” and called for protests.

The strongman also urged Colonel Asimi Gueta, who first took power in the August 2020 coup, urging Malians to “defend our homeland”.

On Friday, his office said the interim government had developed a “response plan” for the sanctions likely to hinder it, without specifying details. She added that the government remained open to dialogue with regional institutions and had no intention of engaging in “hand-wrestling”.

According to Haq, the prices of basic necessities such as rice have risen in the last two days since the sanctions were imposed.

“It will become increasingly difficult for the government to pay the salaries of civil servants and soldiers on the front lines if it cannot get its own money from the regional central bank,” he said.

‘to cut’

Prominent government figures attended the Bamako rally on Friday and were applauded by the crowd.

“The Malian army and the entire Malian people will save and liberate our country,” said Nohum Sar, a member of Mali’s transitional legislature.

“Long live my capital,” Abdoulaye Yanoga, a 27-year-old unemployed man at the rally said, referring to a Malian leader. “These sanctions will not work here.”

In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, ECOWAS leaders have also halted financial aid to Mali and froze the country’s assets in the Central Bank of West African States.

Sanctions threaten to damage an already weak economy in one of the world’s poorest countries. A brutal armed insurgency has erupted in Mali since 2012, with swathes of the country’s vast territory falling outside government control.

Mali is already beginning to feel the effects of the sanctions, with several airlines, including Air France, suspending flights to Bamako.

The nation is also at risk of cash shortage. “It is cut off from the rest of the world,” said Kaku Nobukpo, West African Economic and Monetary Union commissioner.

UN urges ‘acceptable’ vote timetable

France, the former colonial power of Mali, which also holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and the United States have announced their support for the ECOWAS sanctions.

On Thursday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said that Brussels would follow the example of the Economic Community of West African States in taking action against Mali over the postponed elections.

On the same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “it is absolutely essential that the Mali government presents an acceptable timetable for elections.”

Despite the pressure, many in Mali rallied behind the army, with nationalist messages flooding social media.

Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since the coup led by Guetta in August 2020 against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Under threat of sanctions following that coup, Gueta promised to hold presidential and legislative elections, and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.

But he launched a second de facto coup d’état in May 2021, creating an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable for restoring democracy. Goeta also declared himself interim president.

His government argued that Mali’s rampant insecurity prevented it from holding secure elections by the end of February.

The mass participation in Friday’s protest prompted comments from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“If the demonstration is safe enough, surely it is safe enough to vote,” he said, as EU foreign ministers met in Brest, northwest France.

France deploys thousands of soldiers in Mali and neighboring Sahel countries in West Africa to fight armed groups. “We are in Mali and we are staying, but not under any circumstances,” Le Drian said.

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