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Mali leaders join thousands at anti-sanctions rally

Malians took to the streets en masse on Friday after the military junta called for protests against stringent sanctions imposed by regional bloc ECOWAS over delayed elections   -  
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Malians took to the streets en masse on Friday after the military junta called for protests against stringent sanctions imposed by the West Africa bloc ECOWAS over delayed elections.

In the capital Bamako, thousands of people wearing the national colours of red, yellow and green gathered in a central square, for a rally staged by the military government, and sang patriotic songs.

Interim prime minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga, wearing military uniform, addressed a crowd massed in a main square.

"All of Africa is watching Mali today," he said. "To some extent, the fate of Africa is being played out in Mali today".

Evoking the history of African resistance against colonisers, he also paid "special tribute" to China and Russia for opposing the "illegal and illegitimate embargo against our people".

A large crowd also gathered in the northern city of Timbuktu, AFP correspondents reported. Social media also showed mass demonstrations in the towns of Kadiolo and Bougouni in the south.

Leaders from the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) agreed to sanction Mali last week, imposing a trade embargo and shutting borders, in a decision later backed by the United States, the European Union and former colonial power France.

The move followed a proposal by Mali's junta to stay in power for up to five years before staging elections -- despite international demands that it respect a promise to hold the vote in February.

The junta cast the sanctions as "extreme" and "inhumane" and called for demonstrations.

Strongman Colonel Assimi Goita, who first took power in a coup in August 2020, has also urged Malians to "defend our homeland".

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