Malians took to the streets in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, despite rainfall and pleas from mediators to stay home, to demand the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Protesters numbering in the low thousands assembled in a central square, an AFP journalist saw, blowing plastic vuvuzela horns and carrying placards bearing anti-government slogans.
“We want real change in Mali, IBK get out,” read one placard, using the acronym by which Keita is known.
Other people carried umbrellas against the rain, and toted signs asking the prime minister to resign too.
After the crowd sung the national anthem, prominent opposition leader Choguel Maiga told them: “We will continue our fight until the end of IBK and of his regime.”
The gathering marks the first time the June 5 Movement has staged a protest since July 21, when the opposition group declared a temporary truce in a months-long push to topple Keita.
It staged the demonstration despite a call to stay home from Nigeria’s ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, a mediator for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Mali’s crisis.
“Demonstrations do not solve problems per se,” Jonathan told a news conference on Monday evening, adding that opposition figures needed to enter dialogue.
His appeal came after the June 5 Movement repeatedly spurned compromise proposals put forward by ECOWAS, as it has continued to insist on Keita’s resignation.
Mali’s political impasse has struck fear into the poor Sahel state’s neighbours and allies, who are keen to avoid it sliding into chaos.
The June 5 Movement — so called after the date of its first protest — has been channelling deep anger over a dire economy, perceived government corruption and Mali’s eight-year jihadist conflict.
But tensions snowballed in crisis last month, when 11 people died over three days of unrest following an anti-Keita protest, in the worst political strife the country has seen in years.
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc stepped in to mediate. On July 27, the bloc’s heads of government suggested the formation of a new unity government, among other measures, while sticking by Keita.
The June 5 Movement has rejected the proposals, however.
Nigeria’s ex-president Jonathan, who had already led a mediation mission to Mali in mid-July, made a surprise return to Bamako on Monday, where he met the president and opposition figures.
Still, there is little indication of breaking the impasse as anti-Keita protests have gone ahead despite his admonitions.
Keita, who first came to power in 2013, has meanwhile attempted to follow the ECOWAS recommendations.
He swore in nine new judges to the Constitutional Court on Monday, which formed part of an ECOWAS plant to resolve an election dispute that has contributed to the crisis.
Much of Mali’s current tension was sparked in April, when the Constitutional Court tossed out 30 results from long-delayed parliamentary elections — a move that benefited Keita’s party, but triggered protests.
ECOWAS had recommended appointing new judges to the court, and holding new elections in the 30 disputed parliamentary seats.
The MPs occupying those seats, however, have refused to step down. They are drawn from both Keita’s party and opposition parties.