Mob assaults Mali's president, calling peace deal into question

Mali's interim president, Dioncounda Traore, has been taken to the hospital, unconscious, after pro-military junta protesters broke into the presidential palace. Will a ECOWAS peace deal hold?

Adama Diarra/Reuters
Protesters occupy Mali's presidential palace in the capital Bamako, May 21. Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, has been taken to the hospital, unconscious, after mobs of protesters broke into the presidential palace Monday.

Mali’s interim president, Dioncounda Traore, has been taken to the hospital, unconscious, after mobs of protesters broke into the presidential palace today.

The protesters were supporters of the military junta that has ruled Mali since a March 22 coup. Protesters at the scene voiced support for the military junta, but not with the interim president chosen by the junta.

The injury of President Traore could complicate a deal worked out over the weekend between West African leaders and the head of the military junta, Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who named Mr. Traore interim president until elections can be held. The West African bloc, ECOWAS, which led the negotiations, has raised the possibility of military intervention, and has already approved 1,500 troops to restore order in Bamako and contain an ethnic rebellion in Mali’s north that has effectively carved out a Tuareg-majority independent country by force.

Military spokesman Bakary Mariko told Reuters that the protesters broke into the presidential palace and assaulted acting President Traore.

"They beat him seriously and tore his clothes," Mr. Mariko said. "This is a spontaneous crowd. There were three dead and some injured by gunshot amongst the demonstrators. Dioncounda's security shot at people.”

While it’s hard to gauge how broadly the March 22 coup was supported, today's attacks on Traore do show some measure of support for the military junta, and they cast doubt on West African-backed plans for a transition of power from the current interim government, following future elections. Protesters who broke into the palace were heard chanting "We don't want Dioncounda" and "Down with ECOWAS."

"The arrangements made by ECOWAS don't involve Malians. It is a betrayal," Agence France Presse news agency quoted Hamadoun Amion Guindo of the Committee of Malian Patriotic Organizations (COPAM), a pro-coup group.

If ECOWAS intends to bring its 1,500 peacekeepers, approved at an April summit meeting, into Mali, they may find a decidedly cold reception from Malian citizens, some of whom view the junta as a welcome respite from the regime of former President Amadou Toumani Toure. Mr. Toure was overthrown by Captain Sanogo’s men, after protests that Toure’s government failed to provide the food and equipment to fight a better armed Tuareg insurgency in the north.

Mali’s Tuareg population has fought several rebellions in the past two decades, but returning Tuareg fighters armed and trained by the toppled Libyan government of Muammar Qaddafi proved to be too much for Mali’s poorly armed and equipped armed forces. Tuareg rebels, together with an Al Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Dine, have taken effective control of northern Mali, including the historic city of Timbuktu, following the chaos of the March 22 coup.

Over the weekend, Mali’s future seemed to have been stabilized, as ECOWAS leaders reached an agreement with the military junta, accepting Traore’s interim government until elections were held in 12 months time.

"I can tell you that a deal has been reached in principle," Captain Sanogo told state television late on SaturdayReuters reports. "Of course we have a certain number of accompanying measures to put in place and we will remain in [the capital] Bamako the time it takes to ensure that, after these discussions, the institutions of state are stabilized.”

Following the beating of Traore by military supporters, Captain Sanogo has not issued statements to reporters in Bamako. But protesters at the scene told Reuters that they would not accept any deal that includes Traore, even if it enjoys the support of the military junta.

"There is no question of Dioncounda staying as president of Mali," says Daouda Diallo, a demonstrator who made it up to the presidential palace.

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