Mali’s embattled president has announced the dissolution of the constitutional court in a bid to calm the civil unrest gripping the vulnerable African country, as more opposition leaders have been arrested.
The court had been at the centre of controversy since it overturned provisional results for a parliamentary poll earlier this year, triggering protests in several cities that on Friday descended into violence.
Clashes raged again in the capital Bamako on Saturday as demonstrators – angered by long-running security issues, economic woes and perceived government corruption – demanded the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
However, numbers were well below the thousands who took to the streets and occupied state buildings on Friday.
Authorities say four people have died in the unrest, while six opposition figures have been arrested in two days as the government cracks down on an alliance known as the June 5 Movement – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP).
Keita said he had repealed the licenses of all remaining members of the constitutional court so that new judges could be appointed from next week.
“The reformed court can quickly help us find solutions to the disputes arising from the legislative elections,” he said in a television address on Saturday evening.
Following a long-delayed parliamentary poll in March, which Keita’s party won, the court overturned the provisional results for about 30 seats, a move that saw several members of Keita’s party elected and is widely viewed as having ignited the latest crisis.
The 75-year-old president, in power since 2013, had already suggested last week that new constitutional court judges could revisit that decision.
‘Step up’ mobilisation
Meanwhile, the opposition coalition said two of its senior figures, Choguel Kokala Maiga and Mountaga Tall, were detained along with other activists on Saturday. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested on Friday.
In addition, security forces “came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters,” M5-RFP spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.
There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of Security.
Led by influential scholar Mahmoud Dicko, the movement is channelling deep-seated frustrations in the West African country.
Friday’s protest was the third such demonstration in less than two months, significantly escalating pressure on the president.
As flaming roadblocks appeared around Bamako on Saturday, the atmosphere was tense around the mosque where Dicko preaches, his supporters seemingly afraid that the scholar would be arrested.
Security forces used live ammunition as clashes broke out, seriously wounding several men, according to associates of Dicko who published photos of the injuries.
Keita warned on Saturday that security would be maintained “with no signs of weakness”, while indicating his willingness “to do everything possible to calm the situation”.
Meanwhile, the alliance called on the public “to maintain and step up this mobilisation until the aim is achieved, which is the resignation of the president”.
The opposition’s call for civil disobedience includes the non-payment of fines and blocking entry to state buildings.
Demonstrators attacked parliament and ransacked the national television station on Friday, only dispersing when security forces opened fire.
This level of violence is rare in Bamako, which has been spared much of the unrest that is routine across swaths of Mali.
The country has struggled to contain an armed rebellion that first emerged in the north in 2012, before spreading to the centre of the country and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes.