THOUSANDS of people have demonstrated in the Malian capital Bamako against sanctions imposed by neighbouring countries on the transitional military government for trying to extend its hold on power.
People poured into Independence Square on Friday in Bamako, holding up signs saying ‘Down with ECOWAS’ and ‘Down with France.’
The rally was organised by the military-led government.
‘I am here to say that Mali is first for Malians, it’s not ECOWAS or France who are going to make decisions in our place,’ said Adama Cisse, a 40-year-old teacher attending the protest.
The Economic Community of West African States agreed a raft of restrictions on Sunday against Mali, where a military junta seized power in a 2020 coup.
The coup leaders had initially agreed to hold elections this February, before revising that and proposing a new date of December 2025.
The sanctions over the delay have left the landlocked country isolated as neighbours have cancelled flights, closed borders and cut off its access to regional financial markets.
Western powers, led by former colonial ruler France, have backed the sanctions.
Russian private military in spotlight
Mali was already in a spat with Western allies over its hiring of Russian private military contractors to provide security services, a move France has strongly objected to.
The EU said on Thursday it would follow ECOWAS in imposing sanctions on Mali due to the arrival of Russian contractors as well as the election delay.
The Malian government has said the Russian personnel are instructors who came with equipment they bought from Russia.
French troops have been deployed to Mali since 2013 to help fight militant groups linked to Al Qaeda and Daesh.
The UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA also has about 12,000 troops in Mali to try to contain the violence.
In a further sign of fallout, Sweden on Friday said it would withdraw its forces this year from a European special forces mission in Mali, and would review its contribution to the UN peacekeeping force.