N. Mali occupation choking economy in Bamako

Updated 27 December 2012
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N. Mali occupation choking economy in Bamako

BAMAKO: The occupation of northern Mali by militants has hammered the economy in Bamako, the southern capital, where foreigners are pulling out and unemployment and prices are climbing higher.
"The Malian economy is going through a tough time. Struggling because of a poor harvest in 2011-2012, it has also suffered considerably because of the March 2012 coup and its fallout," the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted after a mission to the North African country last month.
Militants have in control most of Mali's northern desert regions since the overthrow of former president Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22, and plans are afoot for an international force to intervene there sometime next year.
"The occupation of the North seriously disrupted agricultural production and trade relations. The deteriorating security situation prompted a sharp reduction of travel to Mali," the IMF noted.
"This hit hard the commerce, hotel and restaurant sectors," it added.
The Fund expects Mali's economy to contract by 1.5 percent this year, and US President Barack Obama has stripped the country of trade priviledges conferred by the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) programme, citing backtracking from democratic reforms.
In Bamako, unemployment has shot up to 17.3 percent of the workforce, according to data from the national statistics institute Instat.
The service sector has contracted by 8.8 percent this year, Instat data shows, making it the hardest hit part of the economy, with waves of layoffs in hotels a stark sign of slumping business and tourist activity.
"Employers have run out of ways to maintain jobs such as having staff take time off and resorting to technical or temporary unemployment," said Salif Bagayoko, head of the local labour inspection office.
Women looking for domestic work swarm the Apaf association for family aid, and have lowered their salary targets even as the rising cost of living hits low-income households.
The cost of fuels, cooking gas and other essential products have doubled in certain cases.
Some domestic workers used to be employed by foreign aid staff for the modest sum of 80,000 CFA, or 122 euros ($ 160) per month.
Now, "even 35,000 CFA would be acceptable," acknowledged Aissa Camara, a 42-year-old widow who lost her job in February.
Mali's national carrier Air Mali has suspended its activities for nine months owing to the crisis.
The airline has asked the government for more funds, "but the state has problems too," Air Mali finance director Souleymane Sylla said on Monday. "Shareholders were not ready to inject fresh funds and want to give themselves some time to have better outlook regarding to the country's future."
Sylla said that Air Mali "had forecast a balanced result for 2013, but the coup d'etat changed everything," and added that 66 employees had lost their jobs.
On the industrial front, 20 percent of factories in Bamako have closed while 60 percent have resorted to technical unemployment measures.
"Since March, we have been operating at a loss," said Alioune Badara Diawara, deputy managing director of Batex-ci, a textile plant.
"We have orders, thanks to neighbouring countries. But cotton, our raw material, has not been delivered for two months, the company that makes it is at the end of its rope," he added.
Cotton is one of the main industries in mainly agricultural Mali, which also has some gold mines. Before the crisis, tourism was also one of the main drivers.
"We are the real victims," says Gaoussou Kantako, an artisan jeweller since 1993 at the N'Golonina market in Bamako. "One can spend three, four days without seeing a customer."
According to him, some 120 of his artisan colleagues, or about half, have left the market over the past few months.
"Some artisans are discouraged, they either stay home or they've left to go work in the gold mines."


Thai protesters march in Bangkok, police set up barriers

Updated 12 min 37 sec ago
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Thai protesters march in Bangkok, police set up barriers

  • Government House and surrounding streets have been declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014 coup
  • The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is facing a public perception crisis

BANGKOK: Anti-government protesters began marching in Bangkok on Tuesday from a university in the Thai capital to Government House to demand that the military government hold a general election by November.
Government House and surrounding streets have been declared a no-go zone by police for the opposition march marking four years since a May 22, 2014, coup and have warned protesters not to defy a junta ban on public gatherings.
Police set up barriers along some roads near the university and carried out security checks on Tuesday.
More than 100 demonstrators walked in a line behind a truck with loudspeakers as police looked on, according to Reuters reporters at the scene.
One of the protest organizers, Sirawith Seritiwat, also known as Ja New, said protesters planned to march peacefully.
“I hope they will let us walk out. We have no intention to prolong today’s activities. I think they will try to stop us ... we will not use violence,” Sirawith said.
Police said around 200 protesters had gathered.
“Authorities will use the law 100 percent. If they walk out we will use the law immediately. We have put forces all around Government House ... if they come in to these areas there will be a prison sentence of up to 6 months,” deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul told reporters.
“Police have no weapons. They are carrying only batons,” he said.
Activists complained of a military crackdown ahead of the gathering.
On Monday, Sunai Phasuk, Thai researcher at the New York-based Human Rights Watch group, said two activists had been held incommunicado at a secret detention center.
“Their alleged ‘crime’ is providing loud speakers for anti-junta rally,” Sunai wrote on Twitter.
They were later released.
The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, is facing a public perception crisis, according to international and domestic polls that say corruption is as endemic as ever.
The government has also repeatedly delayed the general election, which was first tentatively set for 2015, with the latest date now February 2019.
Some fear the date could be pushed back again.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters gathered at Government House the protesters were welcome to send a representative to the prime minister’s office.
“The prime minister works hard ... the NCPO these four years has worked every day ... All NCPO members have worked hard,” Prawit said.
Suchada Saebae, 55, a market vendor, disagreed.
“I came since 6 a.m. this morning because I think the NCPO has done a rubbish job these past four years,” Suchada said.
Some protesters held Thai flags and others held signs with cartoons of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha as Pinocchio.
Protests against military rule have taken place intermittently in Bangkok since the start of the year.
Some of them have been led by young activists. Others have been attended by former “red shirts,” or supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in 2006 and fled abroad.
His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was ousted in the 2014 coup and also fled abroad before being convicted in absentia of corruption.
Thailand has been rocked by pro- and anti-government street protests for more than a decade, some of them deadly.
The military says it carried out the 2014 coup to end the cycle of violence.