So-called M5-RFP coalition, for the third time, rejects ECOWAS plan intended to defuse weeks-long political crisis, raising spectre of new unrest and concerns that poor Sahel country may slide into chaos.

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (L) and the Imam Mahmoud Dicko, influential leader of the opposition coalition, greet each other after a meeting in capital Bamako on July 23, 2020.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari (L) and the Imam Mahmoud Dicko, influential leader of the opposition coalition, greet each other after a meeting in capital Bamako on July 23, 2020. (AFP)

Mali's opposition coalition has formally rejected a plan proposed by West African leaders for ending a political crisis, raising the prospect of more mass anti-government demonstrations in the coming weeks.

In a statement on Tuesday, the opposition group Movement of June 5 – Rally of Patriotic Forces (M5-RFP) demanded "more than ever" the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, accusing his government of bearing "full responsibility" for Mali's crisis.

"The M5-RFP states with regret that the conclusions of the Heads of State Summit do not take into account the depth and gravity of the sociopolitical crisis that has Mali's future hanging in the balance," it said in a statement.

It said the proposals did not "correspond to the expectations and aspirations of the people of Mali and violate the laws and constitution of Mali".

The coalition has said it would restart the protests on August 3 if their demands are not met.

Tuesday's rejection marks the third time Mali's opposition has dismissed the compromise plan, raising the spectre of further unrest.

READ MORE: West Africa calls for unity govt in Mali, resignation of 31 MPs

West Africa leaders' intervention 

Heads of state of members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) proposed on Monday the members of parliament whose elections were contested should step down and by-elections be held. 

It also called for a government of national unity and an inquiry on the deaths.

The bloc, whose leaders conferred by video link, also warned of sanctions against those who oppose its efforts at "normalisation".

President Keita responded with a cabinet reshuffle late on Monday, naming six ministers to core positions, including Tiebile Drame as foreign minister and General Ibrahim Dahirou Dembele as defence minister. 

They are tasked with negotiating with the opposition to form the government of national unity.

But the plan was rejected by M5-RFP opposition coalition, which has spearheaded anti-Keita protests and already flatly rejected an earlier version of the proposals from the bloc.

READ MORE: Mali opposition halts protests with regional talks around the corner 

Embattled president 

Keita, 75, has been in power since 2013.

He is battling major problems on several fronts, including a brutal eight-year-old militant revolt and a slumping economy.

But much of Mali's current tension was sparked in April when the Constitutional Court tossed out 31 results from long-delayed parliamentary elections, a move that benefited Keita's party.

Protests began, ratcheting up into a crisis on July 10 when an anti-Keita rally organised by the June 5 Movement turned violent.

Eleven people died in clashes with security forces over several days, marking the bloodiest political unrest the former French colony has seen in years.

Seeking resolution, ECOWAS mediators this month suggested forming a new government of national unity and appointing new judges to the Constitutional Court to revisit the election dispute. 

But the opposition flatly rejected their proposals, insisting that Keita resign.

Five African presidents flew to Mali for a one-day mediation mission last Thursday to bolster support for the proposals but were again rebuffed.

Mahmoud Dicko, a Saudi-trained imam who is considered the June 5 Movement's figurehead, said last week that he would "prefer to die as a martyr rather than die as a traitor".

"The young people who lost their lives (in the protests) did not lose them for nothing." 

READ MORE: Mali protests in second day despite president's call for talks

ECOWAS raising bogey of militancy? 

President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, who also currently heads ECOWAS, warned his fellow leaders during Monday's summit that Mali risked falling prey to militants. 

But the June 5 Movement said on Tuesday that the West African bloc was "brandishing the terrorist-Islamist scarecrow" to distract from legitimate concerns about Keita. 

It added that the Malian people would "remain mobilised and determined to enforce their constitutional right to civil disobedience".

Yaya Ouattara, a 27-year-old student, told AFP news agency that he had thought ECOWAS was no longer a "presidents' syndicate", echoing a widespread criticism of the clannishness of regional leaders.

"It was a big surprise when they ignored the real problems of Malians," he said.

The June 5 Movement had earlier said that a truce would hold until July 31, but some younger opposition members had announced they would presume protests after August 3. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies