Northern Mali residents protest against armed groups
5/14/2012 11:50:01 PM -
BAMAKO (AFP) - Hundreds of residents of Gao in northern Mali took to the streets Monday to protest against the Tuareg rebels, Islamists and an Al-Qaeda group that took control of the city after a March coup, witnesses told AFP.
"Hundreds of civilians are protesting by burning tyres throughout the city," government worker Ousmane Telly told AFP, adding that members of the armed groups were responding by firing in the air.
At least five civilians were wounded as a result of the demonstrations, including one by a stray bullet, a source at a local hospital said.
"We received five wounded, including one by a bullet. They are all civilians," the source said, requesting anonymity.
"One of them was wounded by a stray bullet, the others fell as they ran to flee armed groups that were firing in the air," the source said.
The protests broke out a day after "armed men prevented some youths from playing football and broke a television that some others were watching," said a municipal worker who requested anonymity. "That's what sparked it."
The protests started out timidly on Monday morning and gained in intensity throughout the day and were continuing in at least two areas of the city in the evening, witnesses said.
"The women, the children, the youth... everyone is outside and is demanding that the armed groups leave," said Abdoulaye Dire, who works for the local radio station. "We are no longer afraid. It's too much, too much."
Mali, once considered one of Africa's democratic success stories, was thrown into turmoil on March 22 when mid-level army officers staged a coup and ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure whose government they charged was not doing enough to fight a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.
The Tuareg separatists and their Islamist allies took advantage of the ensuing chaos to seize the country's vast north, including Gao and the fabled Timbuktu.
The mayor of Gao, Sadou Diallo, who was in the capital Bamako, told AFP that he has received reports about the demonstration and is very worried about the security of the residents.
"The situation is serious. The Islamists could kill people," he said, calling the armed men "criminals" and "assassins" who must retreat from the city.
Gao fell to rebels on March 31, coming under the control of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI), the Ansar Dine Islamist group and the main Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA).
The flags of Ansar Dine and MNLA were torn down in at least one area of Gao on Monday by protestors, who instead hoisted the Mali national banner, witnesses said.