Mali transition off to rocky start after attack on president
Mali’s one-year transition back to democratic rule got off to a shaky start on Tuesday amid fears the process may be derailed after president Dioncounda Traore was attacked by angry protesters.
The Economic Community of West African States mediators of the transition deal threatened sanctions against those responsible for the attack, which they said cast a shadow over the entire process.
The attack was also condemned by the United Nations chief, the African Union and Mali’s own parliament, with all urging that authorities ensure security of transitional government officials.
ECOWAS “will carry out the necessary investigation to identify those responsible for this reprehensible attack and will apply the required sanctions,” said Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, head of the ECOWAS commission, in a statement.
Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole, one of the main mediators, said the attack “raises questions about all the gains made towards normalisation and gives an absolutely disastrous image of the process under way in Mali.”
The government has also vowed to get to the bottom of the attack while calling for calm in a statement read on national television.
“The government would like to reassure the local and international community that all measures will be taken to identify those responsible for the attack … and prosecute them.”
The statement highlighted the urgency of the transition to “re-establish territorial integrity” by winning back the north of the country which was seized by Tuareg and Islamist rebels in the days following a March 22 coup.
Stability in Bamako is urgently needed to address the crisis in the north which has seen some 350,000 flee their homes, according to UN figures.
Monday’s attack came hours after mediators left the country pleased at having convinced coup leaders to accept a Traore-led 12-month transition back to democratic rule.
An angry crowd, which was in favour of the ouster of President Amadou Toumani Toure and does not want Traore leading the transition, besieged his offices despite the presence of hundreds of security guards.
They managed to gain access to his office and beat the 70-year-old badly enough to require a visit to the hospital where he underwent an examination of a head wound and back injury.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also condemned the attack, and urged “the Malian military and security institutions to fulfill their primary function of protecting the State and its legitimate interim authorities,” said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.
The African Union said the attack had undermined efforts to restore constitutional order and stressed the importance of “ensuring the security and safety of the transitional authorities”.
And Mali’s parliament said the attack was “comparable to an assassination attempt.”
Traore has remained out of sight since being released from hospital Monday afternoon, but his inner circle dismissed suggestions he would quit.
France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters in Abidjan on Monday that diplomatic efforts by ECOWAS have been “put seriously in danger by these latest developments (and) maybe other options will now have to be considered.”
Anti-coup coalition the United Front for the Protection of Democracy and the Republic (FDR) expressed shock that “appropriate measures were not taken to protect the presidential palace and president” during the protest.
Mali, once one of west Africa’s most stable democracies, was plunged into crisis when Captain Amadou Sanogo led a band of low-ranking soldiers to oust Toure’s government.
On April 12 the putschists agreed on a return to civilian rule and Traore was inaugurated as interim leader, but the former junta refused ECOWAS proposals that he stay on for a 12-month transition period.
Politicians felt Sanogo had done an about-turn and was jockeying to lead the transition himself. But Sanogo on Sunday accepted a sweetened deal as he was offered all the benefits a former president would get, including housing, transport, security and an allowance.
As tensions remained in Bamako, the foreign minister of Ivory Coast, which currently holds the ECOWAS presidency, hinted at a hard stance from the bloc, which he said “cannot support this attitude,” referring to the attack on Traore.
A 3,000-strong standby force from the west African region is ready for deployment if Mali requests it.