Mali violence flares up on key election day

Malian soldiers patrol in the streets of Bamako on July 27, 2018, on the last day of campaigning before July 29 presidential election. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2018
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Mali violence flares up on key election day

  • Eight million voters are enrolled with 23,000 polling stations opened
  • But insecurity is such that in some parts of the country the vote will simply not happen

BAMAKO: Malians went to the polls on Sunday for a crucial presidential election as attacks disrupted voting in areas already beset by deadly ethnic and extremist violence.
After a campaign marred by armed attacks, 23,000 polling stations opened at 0800 GMT and are scheduled to close at 1800 GMT.
“I have my voting card, I am going to vote for my country and for my favorite president,” said Moriba Camara, a 35-year-old teacher, in the Sebenicoro district of the capital Bamako.
Despite the deployment of 30,000 security personnel throughout the country, several incidents were reported in the north and center.
Preident Keita, 73, leads a crowded field of 24 candidates — just one of them a woman — bidding for the presidency which he has held since 2013. He also voted in Sebenicoro, surrounded by journalists and supporters.
His record on security has been a dominant theme, with opponents, including several former ministers, accusing him of incompetence.
The international community hopes the poll will strengthen a 2015 accord that Mali, a linchpin state in the troubled Sahel region, sees as the cornerstone for peace.
On the campaign trail, Keita — commonly known by his initials IBK — highlighted the achievements of the peace agreement between the government, government-allied groups and former Tuareg rebels to fight militants in the country’s north.
Despite the heavy security presence, polling stations and ballot boxes were burned by unidentified armed men.
Voting could not take place in the village of Lafia, in the northern Timbuktu region, after the ballot boxes were set on fire, according to local authorities.
“Overnight from Saturday to Sunday, armed men arrived at the town hall where the ballot boxes and electoral material were held,” a local official told AFP.
The source added the boxes were burned after militants fired shots into the sky. “One of them said God does not like elections.”
In central Dianke, in the Niafunke region where main opposition contender Soumaila Cisse voted in the morning, “two polling stations were burned this morning by armed men,” Oumar Sall, a local official, told AFP.
Violence has continued to hit in the lead-up to Sunday, despite the presence of 15,000 UN peacekeepers and 4,500 French troops and a heralded five-nation anti-terror force, the G5 Sahel. A state of emergency enters its fourth year in November.
More than 300 civilians have died in ethnic clashes this year, according to UN figures and an AFP toll.
Many deaths have occurred in the central region of Mopti, involving the Fulani nomadic herder community and Bambara and Dogon farmers.
Four days before polling day, armed men — described as Dogon hunters — killed 17 Fulani civilians in the village of Somena, Fulani representatives said Friday.
Militant violence, meanwhile, has spread from northern Mali to the center and south and spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, often inflaming communal conflicts.
The main Al-Qaeda-linked militant alliance made its presence felt on the final day of campaigning Friday, dubbing the election a “mirage” that would do nothing for the Malian people.
“These elections are nothing other than the pursuit of a mirage and our peoples will reap nothing but illusions, as they are used to doing,” said alliance leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.
Ag Ghaly, the key figure in the militants’ operation to take control of much of the north of the country in 2012, leads the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), formed from a merger of several militant groups.
Turnout — which has never gone above 50 percent in a presidential election-first round since the advent of democracy in 1992 — was low in the morning.
“The opening went well but there are not enough people yet,” said Oumar Camara, a polling station chief in Bamako, blaming morning rains and adding that “in the middle of the day people should come en masse to vote.”
The European Union, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) are fielding election observers.
Keita’s challengers are headed by Cisse, 68, a former finance and economy minister, who lost by a large margin in the second round of the 2013 election.
His team have warned of possible fraud, claiming that there are two electoral lists and hundreds of fake polling stations.
The first poll results are expected within 48 hours, with official outcome following on Friday at the latest.
If no candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round, a second round will take place on August 12.


Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

In this Sept. 21, 2014 file photo, Denis Baupin, a prominent Green Party member and former Paris city official, takes part in a climate change demonstration in Paris. (AP)
Updated 20 April 2019
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Women cleared of defamation in French sexual misconduct case

  • The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law

PARIS: A Paris court has dismissed a defamation case against six women who accused a former French lawmaker of sexual misconduct and the journalists who reported the allegations.
The court on Friday ordered Denis Baupin to pay 1,000 euros ($1,120) in damages to each of the 12 people he sued.
In May 2016, investigative website Mediapart and radio station France Inter published and broadcast accounts from 14 women who alleged Baupin had groped, sexted or otherwise harassed them.
The prominent Green Party member resigned as vice president of the lower House of Parliament but denied wrongdoing and launched a defamation lawsuit against the six women who were identified in the reports, some witnesses and journalists.
The case had been under particular scrutiny in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Women rights activists have seen it as a test of French women’s ability to speak out when they think powerful men have sexually harassed or abused them — and how journalists can report it.
The court considered that the women and journalists acted in good faith, which is a defense for defamation under French law.
In addition, it considered France Inter and Mediapart respected their additional obligations: the legitimacy of journalists’ goals in producing a story, demonstrating an absence of personal animosity, prudence and balance, and the quality of the investigation.
Most of the women who spoke about Baupin’s alleged behavior from 1998 to 2013 were fellow Green Party members, and outrage greeted their descriptions.
Four filed criminal complaints for sexual harassment at the time. A nine-month judicial investigation ended without charges. Prosecutors said the three-year statute of limitations had expired, but released a statement saying the women’s “measured, constant statements” and witness corroboration created a set of facts to support allegations of actions that “may for some of them be classified as criminal.”
The cleared women greeted the ruling with tears of joy and relief.
Lawyer Claire Moleon, a lawyer for one of them, told The Associated Press that “this is a great victory.”
“This is a very strong signal given by justice. It’s putting an end to a move that we were noticing to use defamation lawsuits to put more pressure on the victims of sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” she said.
Moleon stressed that Baupin’s order to pay damages to the people he sent on trial shows that “sanctions apply” to such cases.
During the February trial, women had described, often with lots of emotion, their alleged harassment through text messages and inappropriate comments, and in some cases, alleged sexual assault attempts.
Some former officials of France’s Green Party also testified in court, saying they should have acted earlier on reports of sexual misconduct. They stressed that the #MeToo movement has raised their awareness.
Baupin’s lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat, had argued his client did nothing illegal and had filed a defamation lawsuit to “fully clear his name.”
Baupin had decided not to attend the trial.