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Mali opposition says more leaders arrested after mass protest

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s opposition coalition said security forces detained two leaders of anti-government protests and raided its headquarters on Saturday following violent demonstrations against the president in the capital.

FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Simmering tensions saw small groups of protesters erect barricades out of tyres and bits of wood to block traffic through several districts in Bamako, although numbers were well below the thousands who took to the streets and occupied state buildings on Friday.

The rally came after the coalition rejected offers from President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita aimed at resolving a political standoff that began after a disputed legislative election in March.

The opposition coalition M5-RFP said Choguel Kokala Maiga and Mountaga Tall, two senior figures in the movement, were detained along with other activists on Saturday. Another protest leader, Issa Kaou Djim, was arrested Friday.

In addition, security forces “came and attacked and ransacked our headquarters,” M5-RFP spokesman Nouhoum Togo said.

There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of Security.

The arrests represent a new low in relations between the opposition and the authorities, who did not crack down after two large-scale, peaceful protests against the president in June.

Late on Saturday, Keita announced a further concession to the opposition by withdrawing proposed appointments to the constitutional court and said he remained open to dialogue.

But regarding the protests, “All tolerable limits were reached and surpassed,” Keita said in a speech on state television.

On Friday, police fired gunshots and tear gas to disperse protesters who had occupied parliament and the national broadcaster as part of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign for failing to tackle Mali’s security and economic problems.

Mali’s neighbours and outside powers fear the turmoil could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against Islamist insurgents in the West African Sahel region.

Three protesters were killed on Friday and several others seriously wounded, according to the United Nations MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali, whose human rights division monitored the protests.

M5-RFP has blamed the president and security forces for Friday’s bloodshed and urged supporters to remain mobilised. “Keita must resign,” it said in a statement.

Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Christina Fincher, James Drummond and Leslie Adler