Mali votes in run-off amid heavy security to counter militant threat

A woman walks with a child past riot police standing guard outside a polling station during a run-off presidential election in Bamako, Mali August 12, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 August 2018

Mali votes in run-off amid heavy security to counter militant threat

  • The government stepped up security for the run-off, putting 6,000 troops on the streets on top of 30,000 already on duty
  • Mali is high on the list of Western powers’ security concerns, and a respectable election is important in the effort to restore stability to the vast West African nation

BAMAKO: Malians voted in a run-off presidential election on Sunday but observers reported that turnout was low, with several polling stations coming under attack from armed men and one election official killed.
Thousands of soldiers were mobilized to provide security following an inconclusive first round last month that was marred by militant attacks and opposition accusations of fraud.
The Mali Citizen Observation Pool (POCIM) said there had been a “persistent climate of tension in some polling centers in Segou, Bamako and several other localities” in the run-off.
Despite problems, the election had generally being conducted well, European Union observers said in preliminary comments.
In the worst incident, armed men killed the chairman of the electoral office in Arkodia village in Niafunke region in northern Mali, an army spokesman said, confirming observers’ reports.
Incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 73, is expected to win a second term even though he has been unable to stem a surge in ethnic and militant violence.
However opposition challenger Soumalia Cisse, 68, a former finance minister, said he was confident of victory but also accused the government camp of trying to stuff ballot boxes.
Mali is high on the list of Western powers’ security concerns, and a respectable election is important in the effort to restore stability to the vast West African nation.
Militants, some linked to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, have regrouped since French troops pushed them back in 2013 from areas they had seized in the north.
They are now expanding their influence again across the desert north and into the fertile center of the country. Former colonial ruler France and the United States have deployed troops across West Africa to combat the threat.
Mali is also a major transit route for illegal migrants trying to reach Europe, a concern in European Union capitals.
For Malians the election is about securing peace but also alleviating hardship and poverty.
Soldiers searched voters in the capital Bamako as they waited in line under rainy skies to cast their ballots.
“I voted without problem. I came to fulfil my duty as a citizen,” said Dramane Camara, 31, at a polling station in a school in Bamako. “I expect the new president to solve the problem of the north, which is peace. Because the return of peace means the return of NGOs, investors, so creating jobs.”
After polls had closed at 6 p.m. local time, POCIM estimated the total turnout at 22 percent. That included 19 percent in Mopti, 35 percent in Timbuktu and 24 percent in the capital.
Two polling stations were set on fire in Douentza district, and electoral agents were threatened, it said.
Voting was halted in Sendegue and Takoutala, two villages in Mopti region, after armed men chased away electoral agents.
“In general, there have been problems with a lack of ballot papers, poor quality ink, and a failure to display voters lists in front of the polling stations,” POCIM said in a statement.

The first round on July 29 was marred by armed attacks and other security incidents at about a fifth of polling places.
The government stepped up security for the run-off, putting 6,000 troops on the streets on top of 30,000 already on duty.
The head of the European Union observer mission, Italian politician Cecile Kyenge, said that apart from the killing in Niafunke, the election appeared to have taken place without major incidents. But, she said, the EU had no observers in Timbuktu, Mopti and Kidal — areas where violence has been rife.
Keita urged people not to respond to any provocation as he voted in Bamako. “I pledge that all the difficulties we faced are now behind us,” he told cheering supporters.
Keita — known as IBK — took 41 percent of the vote in the first round against nearly 18 percent for Cisse.
Results from the first round took five days to emerge and authorities have not said when they expect the run-off result to be announced.
Cisse, who lost against Keita in 2013, said he was confident of victory when he voted in his hometown Niafunke. “We traveled across the whole country and we found an extremely strong desire for change everywhere,” he said.
Cisse also accused the other side of cheating, saying in Bamako they had found people before the vote who already had ballot papers.
Cisse, who blames Keita for the worsening violence and accuses his government of rampant corruption, also alleged fraud in the first round but the constitutional court upheld the result.

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

Updated 21 May 2019

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

  • Madrasas to be absorbed by Ministry of Education in wake of Easter Sunday attacks
  • More than 100 arrests have been made following the rioting. A curfew has been lifted and life is returning to normal

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday refused permission for a planned $10 million (SR37.5 million) Shariah university in one of the country’s main cities.

And in the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks on hotels and churches, the premier also announced that all madrasas would be brought under the umbrella of Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry.

The latest moves by the Sri Lankan government follow widespread unrest on the island, with anti-Muslim riots having caused damage running into millions of dollars.

Wickremesinghe’s orders came after a fact-finding report into the university compiled by MP Ashu Marasinghe. He recommended that the institution, being constructed at Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, should be privately operated and titled Batticaloa Technology University. The new education complex is located close to the township of Kattankudy where suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, Zahran Hashim, lived and preached his messages of hate and violence.

The Sri Lankan government analyst’s department said on Tuesday that DNA tests proved Hashim died in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President’s Counsel, Ali Sabry, a prominent lawyer and political analyst, told Arab News on Tuesday that the premier’s announcement was welcome.

“We don’t need a Shariah university at this juncture when there is a lot of suspicions on various Islamic topics that need to be clarified by Islamic theologians following the suicide attacks by Muslim extremists,” Sabry said. He stressed that the country’s main focus should be on strengthening ways to ensure peaceful coexistence among all communities.

The Sri Lankan University Grants Commission had a set of guidelines to license new universities, and Wickremesinghe’s latest recommendations would also be included among the requirements for a new university, Sabry added.

The prime minister’s ruling on madrasas (Islamic seminaries) would provide more transparency on the activities of the institutions, he said. “Their curriculum and their co-curricular activities should maintain a common standard and these madrasas should prepare the students to make them fit into society instead of just learning Arabic and Islam only.”

M.R.M. Malik, director of the Muslim Affairs Ministry in Colombo, told Arab News that currently all madrasas function under his ministry. “There are 317 madrasas throughout the island with an estimated 25,000 students. In addition to the local teachers, there are 38 Arabic teachers and 85 foreign students,” he said.

Most of the teachers are from Egypt, Pakistan and India, while many of the overseas students studying at the madrasas are from Libya, Pakistan, Jordan and India.

Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the local community had never wanted a Shariah university. However, he said the proposed curriculum for the madrasas should be constructed in consultation with Islamic scholars and the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, revealed that damage caused by anti-Muslim riots had reached nearly Rs900 million (SR19.2 million). The governor was speaking to Arab News following a visit to some of the worst-affected villages on the island.

“Speaking to the families of the vandalized properties, it’s clear that an organized gang had attacked these earmarked properties owned by Muslims,” said Salley. “One child, whose father was killed in his presence, is still in a state of utter shock and dismay.” He added that turpentine oil had been poured on the face of the dead carpenter by his killers and set on fire.

The governor urged the authorities to bring the attackers to justice. He added that the government would provide compensation to victims of wrecked properties.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasakera said that more than 100 arrests had been made following the rioting, and that a curfew had been lifted and life was returning to normal.