Mali leader pulls out of AU summit after deadly violence

2015-01-29 17:54
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. File: AFP

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. File: AFP

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Bamako - Mali's president has pulled out of attending the African Union summit to visit the restive city of Gao following the deaths of protesters in violent demonstrations against the United Nations, aides said on Thursday.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had been due to fly on Thursday to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, a day ahead of a meeting of the 54-nation bloc, but changed his plans following the bloodshed in Mali's restive north.

"The head of state has just flown to Gao. He has gone there to comfort the people of Gao following the three protesters being shot dead," an aide said.

The UN was forced to withdraw a plan to create a "temporary security zone" in the northern town of Tabankort after a huge protest in Gao by pro-government youths who said it would undermine loyalist armed groups fighting rebels in the area.

Deaths of fighters and civilians

Three people were killed Tuesday on a second day of demonstrations against the UN.

Witnesses described a huge crowd of angry youths throwing stones and attempting to storm the headquarters in Gao of Minusma, the UN's military mission in Mali.

Minusma initially denied it was behind the deaths but later said it would investigate to establish its role in the violence.

Tabankort is part of a large swathe of desert which is the cradle of a Tuareg separatist movement that wants independence for the homeland it calls "Azawad", and from which several rebellions have been launched since the 1960s.

The town, northwest of the rebel stronghold of Kidal, is controlled by pro-government militias however which have clashed over the last month with armed rebels, leading to the deaths of fighters and civilians.

Mediation talks

Around a dozen people were killed on Wednesday when a pro-government armed group, including suicide bombers, launched an attack on rebel fighters in Tabankort.

Keita is accompanied on the trip to Gao by Arnauld Akodjenou, the UN chief in Mali, his aide told AFP.

Algeria and the UN, which are leading mediation talks between the government and rebels, fear the violence in the north will jeopardise the peace process.

Mali gained independence from France in 1960 but ethnic divisions run deep and the west African nation has been riven by conflict for much of the last half-century.

Read more on:    un  |  au  |  au summit  |  ibrahim boubacar keita  |  mali  |  west africa

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