Attempts by Malian insurgents to impose sharia law in the north of the country have sparked protests against rebel control.
Witnesses say Ansar Dine – the Islamic sect that controls much of northern Mali, together with Tuareg separatists the MNLA and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb – fired into the air injuring five people during protests in the northern city of Gao, including one by a stray bullet.
“We received five wounded, including one by a bullet. They are all civilians,” a source at the hospital in Gao told the South African Press Association.
The protests come amid reports that rebels were intensifying attempts to impose sharia law in northern Mali, smashing TV sets claiming they were being used to play video games or watch content considered unIslamic.
Ansar Dine blocked an aid convoy with tonnes of food and medical supplies for the northern city of Timbuktu on Tuesday, objecting to the presence of women in a reception committee set up for the aid.
Ansar Dine already stand accused of desecrating mausoleums dedicated to local saints in Timbuktu, prompting further fears for the 12th century Unesco world heritage site.
The convoy marked the first aid deployed to Timbuktu since a military coup on 22 March toppled the civilian government in the capital, Bamako, allowing rebels to seize control of urban centres in the vast desert north.
Protests against the rebels come as Amnesty International accused all armed groups in northern Mali of “running riot” and committing human rights violations including arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions and rape.
“After two decades of relative stability and peace, Mali is now facing its worst crisis since independence in 1960,” said Amnesty’s west Africaresearcher Gaetan Mootoo.
“The entire north of the country has been taken over by armed groups who are running riot. Tens of thousands of people have fled the region, creating a humanitarian crisis in Mali and in neighbouring countries.”
The continuing stronghold of rebel groups in northern Mali has prompted a new wave of political antagonism in Bamako, after regional group Ecowas accused the junta of a “persistent refusal … to concentrate their efforts on the recovery of the territorial integrity of the nation and their continued interference with the transition, in particular, the attempts to sideline the transitional government”.
The latest dispute between the junta and the international community centers around the approaching 22 May deadline, when the 40-day term of office of interim president Dioncounda Traoré expires. The temporary period –which was intended to prepare for elections which will no longer take place in May – is mandated by the constitution but it is unclear whether the law allows for Traoré to remain in power.
Military leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has refused to quell speculation that he has the presidency in his sights, prompting immediate criticism from the international community. Sanogo declared on Monday that Mali will hold a national convention to choose a leader to rule until elections can be organized.
“The Ecowas commission has observed with deep concern the worrying statements and actions emanating from members of the (junta) and their civilian associates in the last few days,” said a statement from Ecowas, warning that it would reimpose targeted sanctions.
“Failure on the part of the (coup leaders) and their civilian allies to clearly reaffirm their commitment to the transitional arrangement in the next few days … will be met with the immediate reinstatement of the targeted sanctions,” the statement said.
Afua Hirsch, The Guardian