By Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO (Reuters) – Protesters in Mali’s northern city of Gao on Wednesday called for the resignation of the region’s governor and the national security minister a day after three people were killed when security forces opened fire on a demonstration there.
The government has promised to open an inquiry into the incident, which saw at least 31 others injured and exposed the fragility of efforts to implement a year-old peace deal and stabilize the West African nation’s troubled north.
The protesters, some of whom burned tyres and threw stones at police, were angered by the introduction of a new interim authorities who are due to take charge of the region on Friday in line with the terms of the peace agreement.
After initially attempting to disperse the crowd with teargas, security forces shot at the protesters, witnesses said.
“We’re calling for the immediate departure of the governor (of Gao), the security minister and the heads of the police, the gendarmes and the army in Gao,” said Amadou Sarr, a leader of a local vigilante group who helped organize the demonstration.
The government in the capital Bamako announced late on Tuesday that it would send a delegation including the ministers of defense, internal security, justice and territorial administration to Gao on Wednesday.
“The government exhorts the population of Gao to remain calm and remember that dialogue and consultation must guide all parties,” it said in a statement.
The streets of Gao were quiet on Wednesday, but hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in, blocking streets in front of the regional governor’s office as they awaited the delegation’s arrival.
“The markets are paralyzed and the local government and banks have been closed since yesterday. I myself am at home,” said civil servant Mahamadou Tamboura.
Mali’s government, pro-Bamako militias and Tuareg rebels signed the peace agreement last year to end a decades-long cycle of uprisings that helped jihadist groups seize the desert north in 2012, provoking a French military intervention.
However, implementation of the deal has been slow, with the rival factions accusing each other of stalling.
Participants in Wednesday’s demonstration said they rejected the agreement’s creation of interim authorities to share power among the deal’s signatories.
“These same groups that mistreated us yesterday now want to govern us under the label of interim authorities. We say no,” said Nasser Abdoulaye Touré, one of the sit-in participants.
The protests also included members of local vigilante groups who were demanding inclusion in a disarmament and demobilization program.
The United Nations Security Council decided last week to add 2,500 peacekeepers to its mission in Mali to combat growing instability in the north.
(Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)