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West African leaders warn Mali junta against election delays

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West African leaders have demanded that the junta in Mali sticks to its plans for February elections, threatening further unspecified sanctions if Bamako fails to commit to returning to democracy.

"The heads of state... decided to keep the (deadline) of February 27, 2022 for elections in Mali," president of the West African ECOWAS bloc Jean-Claude Brou told reporters in Abuja on Sunday, adding sanctions would be imposed in January if Mali did not move to stage polls.

The head of Mali's government had earlier on Sunday promised to provide the bloc with an election timetable by the end of January 2022.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali following military coups in August 2020 and May 2021, sanctioning officials deemed responsible for delaying elections and threatening further measures.

Malian procrastination and the possibility of a stronger response from ECOWAS were the main items for discussion among African leaders, along with the situation in Guinea, Covid-19 and economic recovery.

ECOWAS also decided to maintain sanctions against the junta that seized power in Guinea on September 5, demanding a timetable for the return of civilian rule there.

The head of Mali's transitional government, Colonel Assimi Goita justified postponing the election and holding a national consultation which he said would be "indispensable" for peace and stability.

In a two-page letter to ECOWAS, Goita hihglighted the need to "create the conditions for transparent and credible elections", including stepped-up security operations, a new electoral law and the beginning on Saturday of a series of national forums aimed at building a consensus for the return to civilian rule.

Several civil society organisations boycotted the consultations.

Mali's junta has cited persistent insecurity for delaying elections.

"The return to constitutional order is and will remain my absolute priority," Goita said.

The country has been plagued by militant and other armed groups, along with violence of self-proclaimed vigilantes and bandits.

Despite the deployment of UN, French and foreign forces, the violence has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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