BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Police fired tear gas at protesters demanding President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s resignation Friday as tens of thousands took to the streets for the second time this month in Mali’s capital.
The ongoing unrest underscored the mounting opposition to Keita, who has led the West African country since 2013 when he took office months after a French-led military operation ousted Islamic extremists from power in the north.
Those militants have waged an insurgency from their desert hideouts throughout Keita’s presidency, carrying out frequent attacks on the Malian military and U.N. peacekeepers.
As Malians have grown weary of the government’s handling of the jihadi crisis, opposition parties and clerics have accused Keita’s government too of corruption.
Demonstrators also have denounced his government’s response to opposition leader Soumaila Cisse’s kidnapping in March. The politician, whom Keita defeated in the 2013 and 2018 votes, was campaigning for his party before a legislative election when he was abducted in an area controlled by extremist groups linked to al-Qaida.
On Friday, protesters also criticized the April legislative election and called for the National Assembly and constitutional court to be dissolved. They put up roadblocks to prevent police from advancing after security forces started firing tear gas to disperse the crowds in Bamako’s Independence Square.
Mahmoud Dicko, an imam who has helped lead the movement against the 75-year-old president, then asked demonstrators to go home and said he would get back to them on what comes next.
As tensions have mounted, the regional bloc known as ECOWAS announced it was sending mediators to Mali. The organization was instrumental in orchestrating the country’s return to democracy in 2013 when Keita was elected.
Keita, who is due to step down in 2023, became president the year after Mali’s president of a decade was overthrown in a coup, creating a power vacuum that allowed the Islamic insurgency to take hold.
Seven years after the French-led military intervention, insurgents linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group continue to launch frequent attacks. Over the last five years, they also have expanded their reach into central Mali, stoking animosity and deadly violence between ethnic groups in the region.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.