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Sahel Blog: Tuareg rebellion in Mali's north sparks protests in South

Guest blogger Alex Thurston says the anger follows setbacks for Mali's Army at hand of well-armed Tuareg rebels. Could we see citizen backlash against ethnic Tuaregs?

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / February 3, 2012



Protests yesterday in Mali’s capital Bamako showed that the ongoing Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali is seriously affecting politics and interethnic relations in the southern part of the country. Reuters describes the scene:

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Hundreds of Malians set up barricades and burned tyres in the streets of Bamako on Thursday, shutting down the capital in the latest protests against a rebellion that has seized several northern towns, and the government’s handling of it.

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A Reuters reporter in Bamako said shops were shuttered early in the afternoon and smoke hung over parts of the city after tyres had been set on fire.

The centre of town was largely deserted except for groups of youths wandering around, the reporter said.

Yesterday’s demonstrations made international news, but protests actually began several days earlier. Military families began protesting in Kati, a town near the capital Bamako, on January 30th. Le Pretoire (French, my translation), writes that on Tuesday the 31st, “The women of the military base in the town of Kati went out and marched in the direction of Koulouba [the presidential palace], burning tires on the Kati-Bamako highway.” On Wednesday, military families reportedly “attacked government buildings and targeted at least one business run by a Tuareg in…Kati.” Protesters have also, the BBC says, targeted Tuareg shops in SegouJeune Afrique has begun to speak of “anti-Tuareg pogroms.”

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Protesters are angry in part over what they see as the military’s lack of proper equipment. The protesters may also feel scared about the difficulties (French) and setbacks the military has faced so far. There also seems to be a perception among some protesters that the Tuaregs in the south are sympathetic to, or to blame for, the actions of their fellow tribesmen in the north. As Reuters comments, “The demonstrations, sparked by local reports that the military ran out of ammunition and that dozens of soldiers may have been executed during rebel attacks, have raised the prospects of clashes between Malian communities.”

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