Malians rally after army calls to protest ECOWAS sanctions | EU News

The military in power in the country calls for protests against severe sanctions The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed by postponing elections.

Thousands of people dressed in national colours red, yellow and green gathered in a central square in the Mali capital on Friday for a rally held by the military junta.

People poured into Bamako’s Independence Square, holding signs reading “Down with ECOWAS” and “Down with France” and singing patriotic songs.

Al Jazeera’s Nicholas Hacker reported from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal that Friday’s protests expanded to thousands across the country.

Harker said the gathering was “contempt for sanctions” and “support for Mali’s leadership”.

The leaders of ECOWAS’s 15 member nations last week agreed to sanction Mali, impose a trade embargo and close their members’ land and air borders with the country.

The move was later backed by the United States, the European Union and former colonial power France, after Mali’s army proposed holding elections in December 2025 instead of February as initially agreed.

The military described the sanctions as “extreme” and “inhumane” and called for demonstrations.

Colonel Asimi Goita, a strongman who first took power in a coup in August 2020, also urged Malians to “defend our homeland”.

On Friday, his office said the interim government had drawn up a “response plan” for sanctions that could have severe consequences, without specifying details. It added that the government remained open to dialogue with regional bodies and did not intend to engage in “wrestling”.

Prices of basic necessities such as rice have risen in the final days after the sanctions were imposed, according to Harker.

“If the government cannot get its own funds from the regional central banks, it will become increasingly difficult for the government to pay the salaries of front-line civil servants and soldiers,” he said.

‘cut off’

Senior government officials attended the rally in Bamako on Friday, to applause from the crowd.

“Our country will be rescued and liberated by the Malian army and the entire Malian people,” said Nuhumsar, a member of Mali’s transitional legislature.

“Long live Asimi,” Abdoulaye Yanoga, a 27-year-old unemployed man at the rally, said, referring to Mali’s leader. “These sanctions are not going to succeed here.”

In addition to closing borders and imposing a trade embargo, ECOWAS leaders stopped financial aid to Mali and froze the country’s assets in the West African state’s central bank.

Sanctions threaten to damage the already fragile economy of one of the world’s poorest countries. Mali has seen a brutal armed insurgency since 2012, leaving large swathes of the country free from government control.

Mali is already starting to feel the impact of the sanctions, as several airlines, including Air France, have suspended flights to Bamako.

The country is also at risk of a cash crunch. It is “isolated from the rest of the world”, said Kako Nubukpo, commissioner of the West Africa Economic and Monetary Union.

UN urges ‘acceptable’ voting schedule

France and the United States, the former colonial powers of Mali, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, have both expressed support for the ECOWAS sanctions.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday that Brussels would follow ECOWAS in action against Mali over postponing elections.

On the same day, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Mali’s government was “absolutely necessary” acceptable election schedule“.

Despite the pressure, many in Mali have supported the military, with nationalist messages flooding social media.

Relations between Mali and its neighbours and partners have steadily deteriorated since the August 2020 coup led by Goita against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Threatened with sanctions following the coup, Goita has pledged to hold presidential and legislative elections by February 2022 and restore civilian rule.

but he staged de facto second coup In May 2021, the interim civilian government was forced out, disrupting the timetable for a return to democracy. Goita also declared himself interim president.

His government argues that severe insecurity in Mali prevents it from organizing safe elections by the end of February.

The mass protests on Friday drew comments from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

“If it proves to be safe enough, then the vote must also be safe enough,” he said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brest, northwest France.

France has thousands of soldiers fighting armed groups in Mali and the neighboring Sahel country in West Africa. “We are in Mali and we will stay, but not under any circumstances,” Le Drian said.