Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore was beaten up and hospitalised after hundreds of protesters stormed his palace yesterday to demand his resignation.A spokesman for the soldiers behind a March 22 coup said Traore’s close-protection officers had killed three people in the attack, in which protesters entered parts of the palace compound unopposed and tore up pictures of Traore.
“They beat him seriously and tore his clothes,” military spokesman Bakary Mariko told Reuters news agency. “There were three dead and some injured by gunshot amongst the demonstrators. Dioncounda’s security shot at people.”
Sekou Sidibe, a witness, said that Traore had received injuries to the face and had been escorted to hospital by the country’s interim prime minister and his bodyguards.
An aide to Traore said later that he had left hospital and had returned to his personal residence. It was not immediately clear when he would return to the palace compound.
Soldiers at the palace stood by as the civilians entered buildings on the compound while others clambered over armoured vehicles parked nearby. Some protesters parked their motorbikes and bicycles in rooms in the palace.
“This is a spontaneous crowd. There were three dead and some injured by gunshot amongst the demonstrators. Dioncounda’s security shot at people,” Mariko said.
By mid-afternoon, the protesters had left, he said.
The protest, reflecting longstanding popular frustrations with Mali’s political class, came despite coup leader Capt Amadou Sanogo agreeing at the weekend to let Traore remain in charge for a year to oversee the full transition to civilian rule in return for securing the status and privileges accorded to former heads of state.
The coup was launched by soldiers complaining about conditions they were sent to fight northern rebels in but unintentionally emboldened the insurgents to seize two-thirds of the country.
The occupation of the presidential palace came after protesters also paralysed traffic and blocked bridges with burning tyres in the capital Bamako.
“There is no question of Dioncounda staying as president of Mali,” said Daouda Diallo, one demonstrator amongst the group that marched up the hill to the presidential palace.
Demonstrators chanted slogans hostile to the 15-state West African regional bloc ECOWAS, which had threatened sanctions against Sanogo unless he allows Traore to remain in charge.
“I am here because I am against Dioncounda. We don’t want him in charge,” said Bourama Sidy Coulibaly, another protester. “ECOWAS should not be meddling in Malian affairs.”
ECOWAS has pledged to send a 3,000-strong force to Mali to help it restore its authority in the north, but it has not made any commitment to actually send troops to fight in the north and its precise mandate remains under discussion.