Mali violence flares up on key election day

Malian soldiers patrol in the streets of Bamako on July 27, 2018, on the last day of campaigning before July 29 presidential election. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2018

Mali violence flares up on key election day

  • Eight million voters are enrolled with 23,000 polling stations opened
  • But insecurity is such that in some parts of the country the vote will simply not happen

BAMAKO: Malians went to the polls on Sunday for a crucial presidential election as attacks disrupted voting in areas already beset by deadly ethnic and extremist violence.
After a campaign marred by armed attacks, 23,000 polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and are scheduled to close at 1800 GMT.
“I have my voting card, I am going to vote for my country and for my favorite president,” said Moriba Camara, a 35-year-old teacher, in the Sebenicoro district of the capital Bamako.
Despite the deployment of 30,000 security personnel throughout the country, several incidents were reported in the north and center.
Preident Keita, 73, leads a crowded field of 24 candidates — just one of them a woman — bidding for the presidency which he has held since 2013. He also voted in Sebenicoro, surrounded by journalists and supporters.
His record on security has been a dominant theme, with opponents, including several former ministers, accusing him of incompetence.
The international community hopes the poll will strengthen a 2015 accord that Mali, a linchpin state in the troubled Sahel region, sees as the cornerstone for peace.
On the campaign trail, Keita — commonly known by his initials IBK — highlighted the achievements of the peace agreement between the government, government-allied groups and former Tuareg rebels to fight militants in the country’s north.
Despite the heavy security presence, polling stations and ballot boxes were burned by unidentified armed men.
Voting could not take place in the village of Lafia, in the northern Timbuktu region, after the ballot boxes were set on fire, according to local authorities.
“Overnight from Saturday to Sunday, armed men arrived at the town hall where the ballot boxes and electoral material were held,” a local official told AFP.
The source added the boxes were burned after militants fired shots into the sky. “One of them said God does not like elections.”
In central Dianke, in the Niafunke region where main opposition contender Soumaila Cisse voted in the morning, “two polling stations were burned this morning by armed men,” Oumar Sall, a local official, told AFP.
Violence has continued to hit in the lead-up to Sunday, despite the presence of 15,000 UN peacekeepers and 4,500 French troops and a heralded five-nation anti-terror force, the G5 Sahel. A state of emergency enters its fourth year in November.
More than 300 civilians have died in ethnic clashes this year, according to UN figures and an AFP toll.
Many deaths have occurred in the central region of Mopti, involving the Fulani nomadic herder community and Bambara and Dogon farmers.
Four days before polling day, armed men — described as Dogon hunters — killed 17 Fulani civilians in the village of Somena, Fulani representatives said Friday.
Militant violence, meanwhile, has spread from northern Mali to the center and south and spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, often inflaming communal conflicts.
The main Al-Qaeda-linked militant alliance made its presence felt on the final day of campaigning Friday, dubbing the election a “mirage” that would do nothing for the Malian people.
“These elections are nothing other than the pursuit of a mirage and our peoples will reap nothing but illusions, as they are used to doing,” said alliance leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
Ag Ghaly, the key figure in the militants’ operation to take control of much of the north of the country in 2012, leads the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), formed from a merger of several militant groups.
Turnout — which has never gone above 50 percent in a presidential election-first round since the advent of democracy in 1992 — was low in the morning.
“The opening went well but there are not enough people yet,” said Oumar Camara, a polling station chief in Bamako, blaming morning rains and adding that “in the middle of the day people should come en masse to vote.”
The European Union, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) are fielding election observers.
Keita’s challengers are headed by Cisse, 68, a former finance and economy minister, who lost by a large margin in the second round of the 2013 election.
His team have warned of possible fraud, claiming that there are two electoral lists and hundreds of fake polling stations.
The first poll results are expected within 48 hours, with official outcome following on Friday at the latest.
If no candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round, a second round will take place on August 12.


Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

Updated 18 min 21 sec ago

Macron hails French Muslim charter against extremism

  • “This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said
  • He hailed the text saying it is “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France”

PARIS:President Emmanuel Macron praised French Muslim leaders on Monday after they agreed on a “charter of principles” aimed at combatting sectarianism and radicalized teachings blamed for a surge in jihadist attacks in France in recent years.
The charter offers “a clarification of how the Muslim community is organized,” Macron said after a meeting with representatives of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), his office said.
It will also provide a framework for a new National Council of Imams that will be responsible for vetting imams practicing in the country.
“This is a clear, decisive and precise commitment in favor of the republic,” Macron said, hailing “a truly foundational text for relations between the state and Islam in France.”
Macron had urged the council to act against “political Islam” in November after the killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded outside his school after showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed as part of a free-speech lesson.
The attack prompted a crackdown against extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defense of French secularism.
The new 10-point charter “states clearly that the principles of the Muslim faith are perfectly compatible with the principles of the republic,” CFCM president Mohammed Moussaoui told journalists after the meeting.
The accord was hammered out Saturday during a meeting with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin after weeks of resistance from some CFCM members who objected to a “restructuring” of Islam to make it compatible with French law and values.
Moussaoui said all eight of the CFCM’s federations, representing various strands of Islam, approved the charter, but three had yet to sign the accord because “they need a bit more time to explain what it means to their followers,” an Elysee official said.
Hakim El Karoui, an author and expert on Islam in France, called the intention of the charter “praiseworthy,” but said it also shone a harsh light on internal tensions at the CFCM which he said consists of “five federations financed by foreign countries and three federations that are Islamist.”
El Karoui said “the charter was adopted by people whose interests clash with the text.”
Franck Fregosi, an Islam expert at research institute CNRS, said no other country, and no other religion in France, had a comparable charter.
“I’m not certain that this text, even once it gets signed, will get wide backing from Islam on the ground,” he said.
The imam of the mosque in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, Tariq Oubrou, said the charter had been developed back-to-front.
“It should be Muslim scholars and theologians who write a text and then submit it to the CFCM, not the other way around,” he said.
The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcision, forced marriages and “virginity certificates” for brides.
“No religious conviction whatsoever can be invoked as an exemption from the duties of citizens,” it states.
It also explicitly rejects racism and anti-Semitism, and warns that mosques “are not created for the spreading of nationalist speech defending foreign regimes.”
Macron has also said that authorities plan to expel the roughly 300 imams in France sent to teach from Turkey, Morocco and Algeria.
The charter accord comes as a parliamentary commission began debate Monday over a new draft law to fight “pernicious” Islamist radicalism with measures to ensure France’s strict separation of religious bodies and state in the public sphere.
The legislation would tighten rules on issues from religious-based education to polygamy, though Macron has insisted the goal is to protect all French citizens without stigmatising the country’s estimated four to five million Muslims, the largest number in Europe.