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Malians demonstrate against regional sanctions

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By Reuters

By Tiemoko Diallo and Paul Lorgerie

BAMAKO – Thousands of people demonstrated in the Malian capital Bamako on Friday against sanctions imposed by neighbouring countries on the transitional military government for trying to extend its hold on power.

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.

People poured into Independence Square in Bamako, holding up signs saying “Down with ECOWAS“ and “Down with France”. The rally was organised by the government, with the prime minister scheduled to speak later in the day.

“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 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.

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 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 Islamist militant groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. The U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSMA also has about 12,000 troops in Mali to try to contain the violence.

The European Union 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.

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 U.N. peacekeeping force.

Some demonstrators said they welcomed the support of Russia, whose ambassador to the United Nations this week expressed disapproval of the regional sanctions.

“France has been here for a decade but nothing is changing. We salute the arrival of the Russians,” said the teacher, Cisse.