In the face of heightened tensions, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had announced he would dissolve the country’s constitutional court in an attempt to calm unrest that saw four people killed in street protests on Friday.
The court has been at the focus of anger since it overturned provisional results for parliamentary elections earlier this year.
Clashes raged again in the capital Bamako on Saturday as demonstrators — angered by a long-running jihadist conflict, economic woes and perceived government corruption — demanded the resignation of President Keita.
Six opposition figures have been detained in the past two days as the government cracks down on an alliance known as the June 05 Movement.
Keita said he had repealed the licences of all remaining members of the constitutional court so that new judges could be appointed from next week.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 an evening television address.
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.
As Prime Minister Boubou Cisse visited a Bamako hospital on Saturday he spoke of four dead and around 50 people injured in clashes with security forces on Friday, although doubts remained over the death toll from some of the worst unrest in years.
“The president and I remain open to dialogue,” Cisse said, adding that he would quickly form a government ready to deal with the country’s problems.
But almost as he spoke, Malian gendarmes arrested Choguel Maiga and Mountaga Tall, both leaders in the June 05 Movement, a group spokesman said.
Later Saturday, security forces turned up at the house of another opposition leader, SyKadiatou Sow, but were unable to find him, said a member of his family who did not want to be named.
Two other opposition leaders were arrested late Friday, the alliance said, and two figures considered intellectual pillars of the movement were also detained.
Led by influential imam 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
Keita warned 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 the security forces opened fire.
This level of violence is rare in Bamako, which has been spared much of the unrest that is routine across swathes of Mali.
The country has struggled to contain an Islamist insurgency that first emerged in the north in 2012, before spreading to the centre of the country and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. (Source: Bangkok Post)