The June 5 Movement has triggered a show-down with the government with unflinching demands that President Keita resign over his perceived failures in tackling the dire economy and eight-year conflict in Mali.
Mali's protest movement has pressed on with a demand for embattled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to quit, as international mediators tried to defuse the crisis in the insurgency-riven country.
At a press conference in the capital Bamako, the June 5 Movement also insisted that the West African state's parliament be dissolved, and called for a "republican transition" from the current government.
The move came during soaring political tensions in Mali, which a delegation from the 15-nation West African regional bloc ECOWAS is trying to calm.
The June 5 Movement has triggered a show-down with the government with unflinching demands that Keita resign over his perceived failures in tackling the dire economy and Mali's eight-year conflict.
After staging several anti-Keita protests last month, the latest rally, on July 10, turned violent and deepened the political impasse.
11 dead, 158 injured
Three days of clashes between protesters and security forces ensued, leaving 11 dead and 158 injured, according to an official tally, in the bloodiest bout of political unrest in years.
The June 5 Movement — a disparate alliance of political, social and civil-society leaders — has stuck to its core demand and rejected conciliatory gestures from the president.
ECOWAS mediators met Keita on Friday, according to a statement from the presidency.
They also met influential imam Mahmoud Dicko -- who is viewed as the de facto leader of the movement despite not being a formal member.
"We really spoke as brothers and Africans and I hope that, inshallah (God willing), something will come out of this that will give Mali back its greatness," he said.
PM apologises for security force 'excesses'
Mali's prime minister has apologised for "excesses" by security forces who opened fire last week on anti-government protesters, but rejected opposition demands that President Keita resign.
"Unfortunately, there were excesses. What happened is very regrettable. We apologise for it," Prime Minister Boubou Cisse said in an interview with France 24 television aired late on Thursday. He said prosecutors had opened an investigation into the violence.
On Tuesday, Cisse wrote to the security ministry demanding an explanation for the deployment of an anti-terrorist special operations force on the streets of Bamako during the protests.
The coalition of religious, political and civil society leaders behind the protests accuses Keita of failing to address violence by groups and ethnic militias, of mismanaging the economy and of enabling corruption.
A delegation from the West African regional bloc ECOWAS is in Bamako this week to try to broker a resolution, but Keita's opponents have so far refused to withdraw their demand that the president resign.
Cisse rejected this idea.
"It's inconceivable because the president ... was democratically elected," he said. "I think it's important ... that anyone who arrives at this level of responsibility in our country arrives there through the democratic process."
The ECOWAS delegation, led by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, is scheduled to meet with Keita and opposition leaders on Friday.
'Note on exiting the crisis'
One of the June 5 Movement's leaders Ibrahim Ikassa Maiga restated the demand that Keita resign at the press conference on Friday.
He also read from a statement entitled "note on exiting the crisis," which urged the international community to lean on the president to step down.
Mali's allies and neighbours are keen to avoid the fragile Sahel nation of some 20 million people sliding into chaos.
Swathes of the country lie outside of government control because of a insurgency that began in the north in 2012, and has since claimed thousands of lives and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes.
ECOWAS mediators, who have been in Mali since Wednesday, continued to hold meetings between the warring parties.
On the agenda is the March-April parliamentary election, the disputed outcome of which many analysts say is the root of the current crisis.
🇲🇱 #Mali: Following a series of anti-government protests in recent weeks, we urge the authorities to ensure that security forces refrain from resorting to unnecessary or excessive force in policing demonstrations or otherwise interacting with protesters 👉 https://t.co/djx1f9I1bx pic.twitter.com/eSGGLY83Ci— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) July 17, 2020
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights on Friday also urged both sides in Mali to show restraint, warning of escalating tensions.
Keita appears unlikely to offer his resignation, however, despite the opposition's insistence.
Prime Minister Cisse condemned the deaths of protesters in an interview with French media on Thursday, but added that Keita's resignation was "inconceivable" since he had been elected.
The 75-year-old president came to power in 2013 to hopes that he would turn the country around.
Despite the presence of thousands of foreign troops in the country, insurgents have swept into central Mali, as well as into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
For its part, the June 5 Movement appears to have heeded earlier calls for deescalation.
On Wednesday, it scrapped a mass prayer rally scheduled for Friday in honour of recently-killed protesters and urged Malians to commemorate the dead in mosques instead.