'Betrayed' Malians march after pensions

2012-05-21 20:41

Bamako - The leader of Mali's military coup has agreed to allow the interim president to remain in office as part of deal that also sees him receiving a lifetime salary and other benefits provided to former heads of state, officials said on Monday.

Thousands of supporters of junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo demonstrated in the capital, Bamako, on Monday against the deal that extended the interim president's mandate. They blocked streets outside the government headquarters and then marched toward the presidential palace.

The demonstrators had broken into the palace, but told an Associated Press reporter that they were leaving because they could not find the interim president. They then went to search at an adjoining administrative building which they did not manage to enter.

The protesters shouted slogans including "Down with Ecowas" and "Down with Dioncounda." Dioncounda Traore is serving as the interim president. Demonstrators are angry about what they say is a decision imposed by the West African regional bloc, Ecowas, on Mali.

The junta had been calling for a national convention to decide who would lead the transition before this agreement was signed.

Some pro-junta groups have said they would like to see Captain Sanogo lead the country until new elections. He is now the president of the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State, the committee the junta set up to run the country.

The West African regional bloc, Ecowas, met with Captain Sanogo, interim President Traore and the interim prime minister over the weekend to mediate the agreement.

"The president of the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State will get all the advantages given to ex-presidents of the republic by the law," said Djibrill Bassole, the foreign minister of Burkina Faso who is the chief mediator for Ecowas in the Malian crisis.


The agreement was signed by the head of the junta, the interim president, the prime minister and Ecowas mediators on Sunday.

Former heads of state in Mali get a salary, a home paid for by the state and protection provided by state security services. Bassole also said that the head of the junta would be able to consult with the president and the prime minister from time to time about the running of the country until new elections can be held.

Interim President Dioncounda Traore will stay in office for 12 months until new elections will be held, as part of the deal.

The junta had been opposed to the extension of the interim president's term, which under the Malian constitution was due to run out on Tuesday. Ecowas had threatened to reimpose sanctions on Mali if the junta did not stop interfering in the transition.

"The interim president of the republic, the prime minister and the president of the National Committee for the Re-establishment of Democracy and the Restoration of the State must treat each other with respect and consideration," the agreement said.

"All parties should refrain from any action which could affect the smooth functioning of the transition," the agreement also said, likely a reference to the arrests by the junta in recent months of senior political and military leaders.

A group of middle ranking soldiers toppled Mali's democratically elected president on 21 March. Since then West African leaders have been pressuring the junta to exit the political scene and return to the barracks.

The new agreement says that the Malian government should now focus on the issues in the country's north where Tuareg separatists and Islamist fighters took over in late March. These groups took advantage of the disorder caused by the coup in Bamako to take over the three regional capitals in Mali's north.

Some of the groups have links to al-Qaeda's North African branch, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Since government troops fled north Mali, senior AQIM leaders have been seen openly moving around in the major towns there, Western diplomats based in Bamako have said privately.

Ecowas has said that it preparing to send 3 000 troops to Mali to help the country reclaim its northern territory but so far troop pledges have yet to be made.

On Friday, Bassole said that the presidency of Burkina Faso had made contact with the armed groups in Mali's north in hopes of finding a negotiated solution to the issue which he said would ensure Mali's territorial integrity.