Mali's junta has launched a three-day national consultation to discuss its promised transition to civilian rule a month after it overthrew the nation's leader, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Demonstrators gather to listen to the speech of Imam Mahmoud Dicko during a protest to support the Malian army at the Independence square in Bamako, on August 21, 2020.
Demonstrators gather to listen to the speech of Imam Mahmoud Dicko during a protest to support the Malian army at the Independence square in Bamako, on August 21, 2020. (AFP)

The first day of consultations over Mali's political future has kicked off with police firing tear gas to disperse supporters of an alliance of political parties, a sign of a deepening rift over who should lead the post-coup transitional government.

About 100 supporters of the M5-RFP coalition, which led months of mass demonstrations against deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, clashed with police at the entrance to the conference centre, delaying the start of the talks.

The junta that toppled Keita on August 18 wants the transitional government to be lead by the military, while the M5-RFP and regional leaders have called for a civilian to take the role.

"They are trying to confiscate our revolution from us, we were very clear from the start. We want a civilian as president of the transition, not a soldier," said Bakary Keita, a senior member of M5-RFP. 

Around 500 people are due to attend the forum, unfolding at a conference centre in Bamako, the capital of the impoverished West African state.

The talks mark the second round of discussions between the young officers who overthrew Keita and civilian representatives, many of whom had campaigned fiercely for him t o resign.

At stake is how the junta intends to make good on its vow, made just hours after the coup, to restore civilian governance and stage elections within a "reasonable time."

Early jubilation among many Malians over Keita's exit has been superseded by questions and also divisions about the speed of the handover and the military's role in the transition period.

The coup -- Mali's fourth since gaining independence from France in 1960 -- came after months of protests, stoked by Keita's failure to roll back a bloody insurgency and fix the country's many economic woes.

READ MORE: Ousted Mali president Keita leaves country as transition talks begin

READ MORE: Mali coup leaders face severe international condemnation

Consequences of political uncertainty 

Mali's neighbours have watched with concern, fearing the country could spiral back into chaos -- a scenario that eight years ago helped fuel the militant revolt which now rattles Niger and Burkina Faso.

The junta initially talked of a three-year transition, corresponding to the time left in Keita's second five-year mandate, that would be overseen by a soldier.

In contrast, the 15-nation regional bloc ECOWAS has set a hard line, closing borders, banning trade with Mali and insisting that the handover last 12 months maximum.

In the runup to the talks, the group said Mali's civilian transition president and premier "must be appointed no later than September 15".

The so-called June 5 Movement, which engineered the wave of anti-Keita protests, is split.

Some voices argue in favour of giving the military a long handover in order to tackle the problems that have driven the country to the brink.

Others say that this would simply worsen instability -- four more Malian troops were killed in an attack on the eve of the talks -- and set a poor example for democracy in West Africa.

A committee of around 20 lawyers, researchers and academics has drawn up a draft "road map" resulting from a first round of talks on Saturday.

This document will be put to the forum "for amendment, improvement and enrichment", its chair, Diarra Fatoumata Dembele, told AFP.

READ MORE: Mali mutineers pledge elections after unseating Keita in coup

READ MORE: A timeline of Mali’s recent political instability

Source: TRTWorld and agencies