Mali’s protest leader backs civilian ‘rare bird’ to lead transition

Supporters of the Imam Mahmoud Dicko attend a protest demanding the resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at Independence Square in Bamako, Mali

Influential Mali cleric Imam Mahmoud Dicko urged the military junta on Wednesday to comply with demands from West African leaders to name a civilian president and prime minister by Sept. 15 to ease sanctions imposed after last month’s coup.

On Saturday the junta began talks with Mali’s political parties and civil society groups over a transition to civilian rule. The move was welcomed by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but it kept sanctions in place.

Dicko, a Salafist preacher who earlier this year electrified protesters during anti-government demonstrations, told the state broadcaster late on Wednesday that Mali needed assistance and that it had nothing to gain by going behind the back of the international community.

“If the international community, including ECOWAS, now thinks that the presidency of this transition should be given to civilians, let’s give it to civilians,” Dicko said, ruling himself out of the running.

“Mali is full of executives, men of integrity, let’s find this rare bird.”

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita resigned and dissolved parliament last month after being detained at gunpoint. The military takeover was welcomed by many Malians, tired of violence by Islamist and ethnic militias and alleged high-level corruption.

Opposition groups also voiced enthusiastic support for the coup, but the honeymoon looked to be over last week when the opposition coalition, of which Dicko is a senior figure, sharply criticised the junta after it wasn’t invited to preliminary consultations about the transition.

International powers fear the political uncertainty in Bamako could undermine the fight across West Africa’s Sahel region against Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, as a previous coup in 2012 did.

Jihadist terrorists killed three Malian soldiers and destroyed two vehicles in an attack near Alatona, Segou region, in central Mali on Wednesday, army spokesman Diarran Koné told us in a message.

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