BAMAKO (Reuters) - The 15-state ECOWAS West African bloc warned on Tuesday it would punish those responsible for orchestrating violence after hundreds of protesters stormed Mali’s presidential palace and beat up interim leader Dioncounda Traore.
Monday’s attack on Traore was the latest setback for efforts to stabilize Mali after a March 22 coup and a subsequent rebellion by northern separatists and Islamists now in charge of two-thirds of the country.
Traore received treatment in hospital for head injuries before moving to a secure location late on Monday.
The attack came days after coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo agreed under pressure from ECOWAS to allow an extension of Traore’s 40-day mandate as caretaker president charged with leading a gradual transition back to full civilian rule.
“ECOWAS forcefully condemns this attack which it considers to be in defiance of its decisions. It will make the necessary inquiries to establish who ordered and carried out this reprehensible attack and apply the appropriate sanctions,” it said in a statement.
It questioned how hundreds of demonstrators could storm the palace so easily given the presence of security forces and said such protests “were orchestrated by persons determined to disrupt the normal passage of the transition process”.
Past statements have explicitly warned Sanogo and other coup leaders they would face targeted sanctions such as foreign asset freezes and travel bans if they tried to block the transition process, however the latest statement did not mention them.
A spokesman for the CNRDRE body that represents the soldiers behind the coup said on Monday the occupation of the palace was a spontaneous show of anger at Traore and his ECOWAS-backed nomination by Malians who want to choose their own leader.
The palace occupation happened during a street protest by several thousand in Bamako that had been encouraged by local politicians who back Sanogo.
Sanogo had agreed at the weekend to allow Traore’s mandate to be extended in return for securing the status and privileges normally accorded former heads of state, including a comfortable pension for life and other perks.
A Reuters reporter said the streets of the capital Bamako were calm early on Tuesday.
It was not clear when Traore, a former parliament speaker who has held various cabinet positions, would return to the palace, around which security forces were posted. Civilian palace staff fled during Monday’s attack.
Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Adama Diarra in Bamako; Mark John in Dakar; writing by Mark John; Editing by Janet Lawrence