Mali government ‘open to talks’ as violent protests continue

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Protests continued in the capital on Saturday

The prime minister of Mali has promised to form an inclusive government “very quickly” after thousands of protesters called on the president to step down.

Four people died in Friday’s protest in the capital Bamako, authorities say.

Several leaders of the protest movement have been arrested.

There are growing calls for President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita to resign due to Mali’s long-running jihadist conflict, an economic crisis and disputed parliamentary elections.

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What’s the latest in Mali?

Speaking on Saturday after violent protests the day before, Prime Minister Boubou Cissé said he and the president were open to talks and promised to form an inclusive government “very quickly”.

“I will put in place a government with the aim of being open to address the challenges of the moment,” he told Radio France International.

But this came as the opposition coalition said security forces detained two of the protest leaders, Choguel Kokala Maïga and Mountaga Tall. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested on Friday.

In addition, security forces “came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters,” opposition coalition spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.

On Saturday evening correspondents described the capital as tense with protesters blocking several roads with barricades. However, numbers were down on Friday’s protests, which forced the state broadcaster off the air.

Why are people protesting?

These demonstrations are the third since June.

Protests started after the opposition coalition rejected concessions from President Keita designed to end a political stand-off over a disputed legislative election in March.

The opposition this week said the movement had dropped its demand for President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita to step down. But it still called this protest because it wants more reforms.

President Keita secured a second five-year term in 2018 but he has faced increased opposition over a rise in jihadist violence and an economic crisis.

Malians will hope this instability does not play into the hands of the jihadists who are behind the escalating violence in the north and centre of the country.