Mali president dissolves constitutional court; Opposition leaders arrested as anti-government protests intensity

Opposition leaders were detained and raided in Mali on Saturday following violent demonstrations against the president in the capital.

Protesters erected barricades out of tyres and bits of wood to block traffic through several districts in Bamako, although numbers were well below the thousands who took to the streets and occupied state buildings on Friday.

The rally came after the coalition rejected offers from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita aimed at resolving a political standoff that began after a disputed legislative election in March.

The opposition coalition M5-RFP said Choguel Kokala Maiga and Mountaga Tall, two senior figures in the movement, were detained along with other activists on Saturday. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested Friday.

In addition, security forces “came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters,” M5-RFP spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.

The arrests represent a new low in relations between the opposition and the authorities, who did not crack down after two large-scale, peaceful protests against the president in June.

Late on Saturday, Keita announced a further concession to the opposition by withdrawing proposed appointments to the constitutional court and said he remained open to dialogue.

On Friday, police fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse protesters who had occupied parliament and the national broadcaster as part of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign for failing to tackle Mali’s security and economic problems.

Mali’s neighbours and outside powers fear the turmoil could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against Islamist insurgents in the West African Sahel region.

Three protesters were killed on Friday and several others seriously wounded, according to the United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, whose human rights division monitored the protests.

M5-RFP has blamed the president and security forces for Friday’s bloodshed and urged supporters to remain mobilised.

Keita announced in a late speech on Saturday said he was dissolving the Constitutional Court and would move to implement recommendations made last month.

“I have decided to repeal the licences of the remaining members of the constitutional court,” the president said in a Saturday evening television address.

“This de facto dissolution of the court will enable us, from next week, to ask relevant authorities to nominate new members so that the reformed court can quickly help us find solutions to the disputes arising from the legislative elections,” he added.

President Keïta also suggested that he could agree to re-run some of the disputed parliamentary elections, which is one of the protesters’ demands.

Speaking earlier on Saturday, Prime Minister Boubou Cissé said he and the president were open to talks and promised to form an inclusive government “very quickly”.

“I will put in place a government with the aim of being open to address the challenges of the moment,” he told Radio France International.