BAMAKO: Police fired tear gas to disperse campaigners for civilian rule before substantive talks over Mali’s political future began on Thursday, a sign of a deepening rift over who should lead the post-coup transitional government.
About 100 supporters of the M5-RFP coalition, which led months of mass demonstrations against deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, clashed with police at the entrance to the conference centre, delaying the start of the talks.
The junta that toppled Keita on Aug. 18 wants the transitional government to be lead by the military, while the M5-RFP and regional leaders have called for a civilian to take the role.
“They are trying to confiscate our revolution from us, we were very clear from the start. We want a civilian as president of the transition, not a soldier,” said Bakary Keita, a senior member of M5-RFP.
International powers fear the political uncertainty in Bamako could undermine the fight across West Africa’s Sahel region against Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, as a previous coup did in 2012.
The talks between the junta, political parties and civil society groups were called to resolve a number of issues including the length of the transition and the make-up of the governing bodies.
Around 100 supporters of the junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), assembled across the street from the building, carrying signs saying “Long live the CNSP” and portraits of CNSP’s President Colonel Assimi Goita.
West African leaders have demanded the CNSP name a civilian interim president and prime minister by Sept. 15 if they are to start easing sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the coup.
“We want this transition to be managed by the military because we know that it is on them that the Malians can rely to create a political rebellion,” said Adama Mahamadou Ballo, spokesperson for a group of pro-junta civil society groups.