Foreign officials reach out to protest leader in troubled Mali

  • International officials have met an influential Muslim leader behind protests against Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
  • Thousands of people rallied in the capital Bamako last week to demand Keita's resignation
  • Organisers of the protests said the officials sought to play the role of mediator 

Officials from the UN, West Africa and the African Union (AU) have met an influential Muslim cleric behind demonstrations against Mali's beleaguered president, the coalition behind the protests said on Monday.

Tens of thousands of people joined a rally in Bamako last Friday to demand the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term.

Keita is struggling to maintain support in the poor and volatile country over a jihadist revolt and ethnic violence that have claimed thousands of lives, forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes and devastated the economy.

The alliance which organised the protests said "a delegation from the international community met Imam (Mahmoud) Dicko" on Sunday.

Its members came from the UN's peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA; the AU; and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), a 15-nation bloc that includes Mali, it said in a statement.

A source close to the coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "The international community wanted to have information about our aims and then play the role of mediator, naturally."

MINUSMA spokesperson Olivier Salgado said the head of the peacekeeping mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, "along with representatives from regional organisations, met certain organisers (of Friday's rally) but also with representatives of national authorities... to find ways of renewing dialogue."

Dicko, who espouses a rigorous form of Islam, is a leading figure in an umbrella group of religious leaders, politicians and grassroots campaigners.

He was once close to Keita but has become a vociferous critic of him since recently entering politics.

The government issued a statement on Saturday calling for "political actors and civil society to respect the republican and democratic structure," but also reiterated an "offer of dialogue".