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

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.

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

Afghan security personnel in front of a prison gate after an attack by Daesh that had freed hundreds in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, on Monday. (AP)
Updated 04 August 2020

Militant attack on Afghan prison frees hundreds

  • The attack, reportedly by Daesh, took place hours before end of cease-fire

KABUL: Militants affiliated with the Daesh group stormed a prison in eastern Afghanistan in a daylong siege that left at least 39 people dead, including the assailants, and freed nearly 400 of their fighters before security forces restored order, a government official said Monday.

The attack on the main prison in Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, where several hundred Daesh fighters have been detained, began on Sunday afternoon with a car bomb detonated at the entrance to the jail.

The attack came hours before the end of a three-day ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban, who immediately denied any involvement in the assault. Several Western media outlets reported that the Daesh had claimed responsibility.

The Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani, told Arab News that there was still gunfire on Monday morning, and that more than 20 civilians and personnel and three attackers have died in the fighting.

Two local security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that nearly half of the prison’s 1,500 inmates managed to flee.

They said 20 assailants made their way into the prison and a number of explosions were heard from inside the jail.Residents said one group of attackers was firing on the jail from a nearby building and they reported heavy and sustained exchanges of small fire.

According to Khogyani, most of the escapees have been caught. He gave no further details about the attack.

The assault comes amid official claims that Daesh leaders have been arrested or killed in recent months, notably in Nangarhar, which used to be the group’s bastion.

“This is a major embarrassment for the government, which every now and then claims to have wiped out or paralyzed the Daesh. The government needs to answer why such a high security lapse has happened,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal said.

The Eid Al-Adha ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government forces was a part of efforts to begin long-awaited peace talks following a US-Taliban agreement signed in Qatar in late February.

In accordance with the deal, the Taliban is releasing 1,000 Afghan troops in exchange for 5,000 militants held by President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The process is near completion, but Kabul is refusing to free 400 remaining Taliban inmates, saying they have been behind “heinous crimes.”

After Eid prayers on Sunday, Ghani announced he would summon a traditional grand assembly, Loya Jirga, to help him decide whether the rest of Taliban prisoners should be freed.

The assembly is scheduled to start on Aug. 7. Loya Jirga has deep roots in Afghan history and tradition and is usually summoned during times of crisis or emergency.

The Taliban have voiced their opposition to the convocation of the jirga. Their Qatar-based spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told TOLO News that Kabul’s decision would only complicate the peace process.

Afghan politicians are divided on the jirga announcement. Hamidullah Tokhi, a member of parliament from southern Zabul province, said: “The nation and parliament have deep doubts about Ghani’s goal for summoning the jirga to decide over the fate of 400 Taliban.

“All of the 4,500 Taliban already freed were involved in some sort of bloody attacks. Why did the government not ask for the jirga on the overall release of the Taliban?”

“Summoning the jirga now is a treason to this country and a clear blocking of the peace process,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, who served in the previous government as an adviser, said Ghani hopes that the victory of Democrats in the upcoming US elections, would sideline Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan who struck the Qatar deal with the Taliban, allowing Kabul to be in charge of the peace process.
“We should have one Loya Jirga to discuss substantive matters on peace with the Taliban and the type of future regime,” Farhadi said, adding that the Taliban, too, should participate in the assembly. “This meeting would be like a half-baked national dialogue (if it is) conducted by only one side of the conflict.”