Mali government slams claims of live fire at protesters

Many demonstrations in Mali are officially outlawed. (AFP pic)

BAMAKO: Mali’s government on Sunday condemned “false and slanderous” claims by the country’s opposition that live ammunition was used against protesters during banned demonstrations two months ahead of a presidential election.

Twenty-five people were wounded in clashes in the capital Bamako on Saturday, a hospital source said, and the United Nations called from calm just days after Secretary-General António Guterres visited the West African country.

The allegations of live fire prompted a strong reaction from Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, who said he read of the news “with indignation”.

“I formally and vigorously deny this false and slanderous statement, which has no other goal than to distract the Malian people and government from the concerns of the moment, which are peace and security for transparent, fair and credible elections,” he said in a statement.

His advisor Cheick Oumar Coulibaly said none of the wounded spent the night in hospital, and “no bullet wounds were recorded”.

The capital’s Gabriel Touré University Hospital said 25 people were admitted to emergency, but none were shot.

The “transparency” rally outside the party headquarters of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in Bamako attracted several hundred people on Saturday.

Police fired tear gas and beat demonstrators with batons, according to an AFP reporter at the scene. Clashes also took place in other locations.

The demonstrations came ahead of July 29 elections in which President Keïta, 73, will face more than a dozen challengers.

On Sunday police officers in riot gear remained at several crossroads in the Malian capital, an AFP correspondent said.

Opposition presidential candidate Soumaïla Cissé on Sunday called for an “investigation” into the incident after his office earlier accused the prime minister’s security services of firing live ammunition at protesters outside the headquarters of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP).

Cissé denounced an “intolerable attack on fundamental freedoms”, adding that “we absolutely must avoid an electoral crisis by establishing dialogue”.

He added that the opposition would hold another protest on June 8, to call for “transparent elections” and equal access to public radio and television for campaigning.

Most protests are banned as the nation has lived under a near-constant state of emergency since an attack on a hotel in Bamako in November 2015 left 20 people dead.

Guterres, who visited Mali last week, called late Saturday for “calm and restraint by all parties”.

“The UN secretary-general regrets the government-imposed ban on the demonstrations by opposition parties,” the UN said in a statement.

“(He) urges political actors and the civil society to favour dialogue in order to maintain an environment conducive to the holding of credible and transparent elections.”

“(He) calls on the Malian government to ensure the protection of fundamental human rights and freedom of expression to peaceful demonstrations, including in the context of the ongoing state of emergency.”

Mali is one of the “G5 Sahel” states, along with Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania, and Niger, which have launched joint operations against jihadist groups.