France supports regional sanctions against Mali when junta calls for protests

Mali’s ruling junta has called for nationwide demonstrations on Friday to protest against regional sanctions imposed due to delayed elections, while saying it is still open to dialogue.

In a sharp escalation after months of diplomatic tensions, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday agreed to close borders with the Sahel state and impose a trade embargo.

France, Mali’s former colonial power and the United States supported the decisions, and French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters on Tuesday: “We are in complete solidarity with the region and with this very courageous and clear stance” of ECOWAS.

Dmitry Polyanskyi, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, said he “understood” the difficulties facing Mali’s government.

The ECOWAS sanctions came after Mali’s interim government last month proposed that they remain in power for up to five years before the election – despite international demands to respect a promise to hold elections on February 27.

In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, the bloc also agreed to stop financial aid to Mali and freeze its assets at the central bank of West African states.

Colonel Assimi Goita, the strongman of the poor Sahel country, called the measures “extreme” late on Monday and called on Malaysians to stage protests against the sanctions on Friday.

Goita also called the sanctions “illegitimate, illegal and inhumane”, while adding that he is still open to dialogue with his West African neighbors.

The UN Security Council will discuss the situation in Mali on Tuesday.

Deteriorating relationships

Mali’s relations with its neighbors and partners have steadily deteriorated since Goita led a coup in August 2020 to overthrow President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Under threat of sanctions following that onslaught, Goita had promised to hold presidential and parliamentary elections and to restore civilian rule by February 2022.

But the strong man staged a de facto second coup in May 2021, forcing an interim civilian government and disrupting the timetable for restoring democracy.

Goita also proclaimed himself interim president.

Then in December, his government proposed that he stay in power for up to another five years.

It claimed, among other things, that the rampant insecurity in Mali prevented the country from arranging safe elections according to the agreed timetable.

The great nation of 19 million people is in the grip of a jihadist uprising, and parts of the territory are beyond the control of the government.

‘Elasticity’

Goita has called for calm and “resilience” ahead of the ECOWAS sanctions and has assured the Malays that the government will take action to counter their effects.

Mali, a landlocked country already in conflict, is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Despite international anger against Mali’s military rulers, inside the country, the junta has received some public criticism of the diplomatic dispute.

Pro-government announcements, as well as criticism of ECOWAS, have flooded social media in Mali in recent days.

Neighboring Guinea – an ECOWAS member also under military rule – announced on Monday that it would neither close its borders with Mali nor block trade.

Goita, in his speech, reiterated his commitment to restoring civilian rule.

But the way out of the conflict is still unclear, as the strong man failed to detail any details to restore democracy.

(AFP)

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