Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

Voters stand in a queue to vote at a polling station during the parliamentary elections in Gao, Mali, on March 29, 2020. Malians headed to the polls on March 29, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 29 March 2020

Mali holds election despite coronavirus and insurgency

  • The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead
  • Polls opened on Sunday and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said

BAMAKO: Mali held its long-delayed parliamentary election on Sunday despite an insurgency in its central and northern regions, concerns about coronavirus and the recent kidnapping of the main opposition leader.

The election, originally scheduled for 2018, has been postponed twice because of intensifying violence in parts of Mali where the government struggles to suppress jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The coronavirus pandemic has posed a further threat to the vote but authorities in the West African nation have insisted it will go ahead, promising to enforce additional hygiene measures to protect Mali's 7.6 million voters.

"The government will do everything to make sure this is the case," President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in the run-up to the election.
Mali had confirmed 20 cases of coronavirus as of Sunday morning.

Polls opened on Sunday at 0800 and turnout in the capital Bamako appeared low, a Reuters witness said.

There was no queue at one polling station, which allowed voters to cast their ballot while keeping the recommended distance from each other. Handwashing facilities were meant to be available, but the kits arrived too late for early voters.

"I voted without a problem, but the hygiene kit against coronavirus wasn't there," said 30-year-old driver Ibrahim Konare. "The priority for the new parliament should be the fight against insecurity and the eradication of coronavirus."

It was not clear how voting was going in the large areas of central and northern Mali that are effectively lawless and used by the jihadists as a base for attacks in Mali and into neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Mali's main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse was ambushed last week while on the campaign trail in the northern region of Timbuktu. The attackers killed Cisse's bodyguard and took Cisse and six members of his delegation hostage. They have not been seen since.

The election will select 147 lawmakers for the national assembly, which has not had a mandate since 2018 because of the electoral delays.
Polling stations close at 1800 GMT with results due in the coming days. A second round is scheduled for April 19 in constituencies where no candidate wins a majority.

Related


Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

Updated 1 min ago

Minneapolis braces for fourth night of riots and arson 

  • Unrest follows police killing of George Floyd
  • FBI and US Justice Department investigating death  

CHICAGO: Minneapolis exploded into riots and arson this week after an African-American suspected of handling counterfeit money was killed on Monday during his arrest by two city police officers.

Videos on social media showed an officer placing his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he was handcuffed and being restrained on the street by the kerb. The 46-year-old said that he could not breathe, but police insisted that Floyd was “resisting arrest” and had to be forcibly restrained.

Floyd was pronounced dead at the scene and his family immediately called for an independent investigation, reflecting a growing number of incidents of police brutality against African-Americans in the US.

His family turned to civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who said the family’s first concern was to seek an autopsy independent of the police because of a lack of trust in law enforcement and to give their deceased family member a proper funeral.

“Is it two justice systems in America?” Crump said as he addressed the media. “One for black America and one for white America? We can’t have that. We have to have equal justice for the United States of America and that’s what I think the protesters are crying out for.”

Protests spread across the country and turned violent as arson destroyed property, including the police station where the police officers were assigned.

President Donald Trump denounced the rioters as “thugs” and warned that he might send in the military “to take control.” 

Minneapolis Police handed the investigation into Floyd’s death to the FBI and US Justice Department on Thursday night.

“On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 p.m., officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress.  Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence,” according to the police department’s account of what happened on May 25.

“Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.”

Officials from the FBI and US Justice Department promised that the probe would be “robust and meticulous.”

“The Department of Justice has made the investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter,” US Attorney Erica MacDonald and FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Rainer Drolshagen said in a joint statement.

“The Federal investigation will determine whether the actions by the involved former Minneapolis Police Department officers violated federal law. It is a violation of federal law for an individual acting under color of law to willfully deprive another person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”

’Anger and sadness’

The media’s role in the protests that followed Floyd’s came sharply into focus when, early on Friday, CNN’s Omar Jimenez was arrested along with his TV crew.

Minneapolis had deployed police officers in the 3rd Precinct near the burned-down police station, in anticipation of another day of riots and arson. They were trying to clear the area when they asked Jimenez to leave.

Jimenez told police as he prepared to do a live report: “We are getting out of your way.” 

But the journalist began his report instead of leaving, prompting police to say he was under arrest.

CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota, who looked on as her colleague was being arrested, told viewers: “If you are just tuning in you are watching our correspondent Omar Jimenez being arrested by state police in Minnesota. We are not sure why our correspondent is being arrested.”

The camera crew was arrested after refusing to leave and trying to continue the live CNN report.

The city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, urged for calm and restraint following the violence.

“What we have seen over the last two days and the emotion ridden conflict over last night is the result of so much built up anger and sadness,” he tweeted. “Anger and sadness that has been ingrained in our black community not just because of five minutes of horror, but four hundred years. If you are feeling that sadness and that anger it is not only understandable it is right. It is the reflection of the truth of what our black community has lived.”

Frey urged “our non-black communities” to understand the rage from African- American citizens around the US and not just in Minneapolis.

The Washington D.C-based US Council of Muslim Organizations urged Muslims across the country to pray for Floyd’s family and condemned the officers’ conduct.  

“Minneapolis police officers marked Memorial Day by suffocating an utterly subdued black man named George Floyd to death as he pleaded with his last stifled words for the right to breathe. They snuffed out the light of his life with a knee on his neck, collapsing his trachea. They killed him in broad daylight. They killed him over a slow seven minutes. They killed him while contemptuously mocking the helpless bystanders pleading for mercy, for humanity, for George Floyd’s expiring life. They killed him even after Floyd had died by continuing to kneel on his limp, lifeless body for another two minutes.”