Who supports Mali's junta?
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Bamako (AFP) – Mali's military junta is urging people to take to the streets on Friday to protest regional sanctions, imposed over delayed elections in the Sahel state.
The sanctions, which include border closures and a trade embargo, have the potential to cripple the economy of an already impoverished nation.
But few inside Mali are openly critical of the state's military rulers.
What are the sanctions?
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped economic and diplomatic sanctions on Mali on Sunday for the junta's failure to organise swift elections.
Mali's army initially promised to stage elections in February 2022, after staging a coup in August 2020.
But in December, it suggested staying in power for up to an additional five years, citing security concerns.
Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal jihadist insurgency that first emerged in 2012, before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
The proposed elections delay angered Mali's neighbours and pushed them to impose sanctions.
ECOWAS leaders agreed to shutter the bloc's borders with Mali and impose a trade embargo.
They also pledged to halt aid to the country and freeze its assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
Who supports the junta?
Many in Mali have rallied behind the army-dominated government and its leader Colonel Assimi Goita.
One of the country's main trade unions, the National Union of Workers of Mali, said ECOWAS had "once again betrayed Africa."
The teachers' union also suspended an indefinite strike that it had called in January.
The High Islamic Council of Mali, as well as the country's main press association, have also made statements in support of the junta.
In a rare rebuke, nearly a dozen political parties have publicly criticised the military, accusing it of bearing "sole and unique responsibility" for the sanctions.
But they also stated that they "regretted" the ECOWAS measures.
No significant voice in Malian public life has so far supported the sanctions themselves.
Why such support?
"Malians have national pride," said Nouhoum Sarr, a member of Mali's transitional legislature and junta supporter.
He added that people are "determined to defend" their country.
Such national pride has been reflected in media coverage. The weekly newspaper Mali-Horizon urged the country to "unite or perish" this week, while news website Malikile called for a "sacred union" in defence of the homeland.
The rhetoric plays well in a country where some are critical of democratic rule.
"What good are elections if they can't be organised in two-thirds of the country?" Bouba Toure, a Malian teacher, told AFP.
Swathes of Malian territory lie outside government control because the jihadist insurgency.
- What's the junta's record? -
Sarr said there had been "real progress on the security front" -- an issue that he called a prerequisite for other reforms.
He said that there had been a drop in jihadist attacks.
In a January report, the United Nations noted a "slight decrease" in the number of attacks on civilians in the final quarter of 2021.
But it also pointed out that there were few reports of violent incidents in extremist-controlled areas, something that could point to coercion.
The UN highlighted a number of legal investigations underway in Mali, including related to high-level corruption.
Such initiatives are popular in the country, although some believe the junta is using graft probes to sideline political opponents.
Some steps have also been taken towards reforming electoral law in Mali, according to the UN.
To supporters of the junta, one of its signature achievements has been the staging of a national conference on reforming the country, with a view to restoring democratic rule.
The conference ended in December, but it was boycotted by a broad group of political parties and social organisations.
© 2022 AFP