Nearly 250,000 people couldn’t vote ‘for various reasons’: Mali govt

Malian opposition presidential candidates (L to R) Mountaga Tall, Choguel Maiga and Soumaila Cisse talk during a press conference about the results of the first round of the presidential election, on August 6, 2018 in Bamako, ahead of the second round scheduled on August 12. (AFP)
Updated 07 August 2018

Nearly 250,000 people couldn’t vote ‘for various reasons’: Mali govt

  • The government had earlier said that 715 polling stations had remained closed out of a total 23,000 nationwide
  • The jihadist violence has spread from northern Mali to the center and south of the country and spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, often inflaming communal conflicts

BAMAKO: The Mali government on Monday published a list of 871 polling stations which were unable to operate during last week’s presidential election due to outbreaks of violence, adding that almost a quarter of a million people had been unable to vote.
A total of 245,888 voters — mainly in northern Timbuktu region, central Mopti and Segou in the south — “were unable to vote for various reasons” during the July 21 election, the ministry of territorial administration said.
The government was responding to calls by the opposition and the European Union to provide more details of the contested vote results.
The three main opposition candidates in Mali’s presidential election announced Sunday they were mounting a legal challenge in the country’s constitutional court alleging “ballot box-stuffing” and other irregularities, after incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita took the lead in the first round of voting.
Keita won 41.42 percent of the vote in July’s presidential poll, according to provisional results, easily ahead of the second place rival Soumaila Cisse with 17.8 percent. They are set to contest a runoff vote next Sunday.
The government had earlier said that 715 polling stations had remained closed out of a total 23,000 nationwide.
Two days after polling took place the European Union pressured Mali to present a “complete and detailed list” of polling stations where a key presidential election could not be held due to violence.
Security was a central issue during the campaign, in which 73-year-old Keita is seeking re-election with the international community hoping the poll will strengthen a 2015 peace accord.
In Mali’s north, where the state is barely present, armed groups who signed the peace accord helped to ensure security.
The vote was monitored by observers from the European Union, the African Union, the regional ECOWAS grouping and the Francophonie organization.
Violence also marred the lead-up to the election, despite the presence of 15,000 UN peacekeepers, 4,500 French troops and a much heralded five-nation anti-terror G5 Sahel force.
The jihadist violence has spread from northern Mali to the center and south of the country and spilled over into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, often inflaming communal conflicts.
On Monday 18 of the presidential candidates denounced an “electoral hold-up” and called for a major protest in Bamako on Tuesday.
The constitutional court is due to officially announce the first-round results on Wednesday.
Mali, considered a linchpin state in west Africa’s troubled Sahel region, is one of the world’s poorest countries, with most people living on less than $2 a day.


Kabul begins freeing Taliban

Newly freed Taliban prisoners walk at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 13, 2020. Picture taken August 13, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2020

Kabul begins freeing Taliban

  • Release of final 400 inmates was approved by traditional Afghan grand assembly

KABUL: After months of delay, Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban inmates in its custody, clearing the way for long-awaited peace talks, officials confirmed on Friday.

Eighty of the 400 were set free on Thursday and, according to the government, more will be freed in the coming days. The release was a condition to begin intra-Afghan negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the war-torn country. The talks, already delayed twice, are expected to take place in Qatar once the release process is complete.
“The release was to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide cease-fire,” the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement accompanied by video footage showing former Taliban inmates calling on insurgent leaders and the government to engage in peace talks.
The prisoner release follows an agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar in February that stipulated the exchange of prisoners between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the militants, who have gained ground in recent years.
The process, involving 5,000 Taliban detainees held by Kabul and 1,000 security forces imprisoned by the militants, was slated to begin in early March and should have been followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani, initially resistant to the idea of freeing the Taliban inmates, began to release them under US pressure. Some 4,600 Taliban inmates were freed over the few past months, but Ghani refused to free the remaining 400, arguing they were behind major deadly attacks and that setting them free was outside his authority.
Faced by mounting pressure, after Eid Al-Adha holidays two weeks ago, the president vowed to summon a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help him decide if the remaining Taliban inmates should be freed or not.

FASTFACT

Footage showing men in uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban members went viral on social media this week, raising concerns that violence between security forces and the militants may impede the peace process despite the prisoner release.

Last week, the assembly approved the release, which is now underway and expected to be followed by the peace talks, in accordance with the US-Taliban deal.
The process, however, coincides with a spike in violence in the country and mutual accusations of an increase in assaults by the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said it was probing a video circulating on social media showing men in army uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban fighters.
The UN requested that the incident be investigated. It remains unclear when and where it took place.
The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of the Zabul province.
Concerns are rising that similar acts of violence will further delay the peace process.
“Let us hope that this video does not become part of revenge-taking between the two sides and affect the process of peace. It is really unfortunate,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal told Arab News.
“As the violence continues, we see more brutal and shocking tactics from the sides and examples of revenge-taking, and that is very worrying and impacts any trust in a peace process,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“It is on the leadership of the two sides to have clear messages to their fighters to avoid war crimes and actions that further the instinct for revenge that will make the reconciliation that should come out of a peace process difficult,” she added.

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