West African presidents to head to Mali to help solve crisis

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A delegation of at least three West African leaders will head to Mali this week to try to end a political crisis that has sparked widespread protests, cost at least 11 lives and led to calls for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to step down.

A regional mission of West Africa’s ECOWAS bloc last week failed to appease an influential opposition group called M5-RFP that has denounced Keita’s failure to contain a growing jihadist insurgency or address contested local election results.

Protestors have raided government buildings and blocked off sections of the capital Bamako in recent weeks, raising concerns among neighbouring leaders that a long-running crisis in Mali could destabilise the whole region.

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou will head to Mali, said spokesman Issa Mahamadou Mourtala. Issoufou will be accompanied by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara, said high-level government sources in those two countries.

It was not yet clear who the delegation would meet or on what day they would arrive. The source in Ivory Coast said that Ouattara was going on Thursday.

Regional leaders are acutely aware of the danger a destabilised Mali poses. The landlocked, semi-desert state has been used as a launchpad for groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State to attack neighbouring countries including Niger and Ivory Coast.

Keita has offered concessions, including dissolving the Constitutional Court, but the opposition has hardened since police fired on protesters and leading members were arrested this month.

The coalition has said that 20 people have been killed in the protests in July. The Health Ministry puts the toll at 11.

In a post-mission statement on Sunday, ECOWAS proposed that Mali’s Constitutional Court examine the contested elections and that Keita create a new government including opposition members and civil society.

M5-RFP rejected the proposal, said they wanted Keita gone and launched a week-long civil disobedience campaign starting Monday.