The leader of Mali’s military junta, Colonel Assimi Goita, on Tuesday urged support for French and United Nations troops, a frequent target of popular anger in the war-torn country.
Speaking to reporters during a ceremony marking Mali’s 60 years of independence from France, Goita asked Malians to support national troops as well as “partner forces” from France and the UN.
Mali has struggled to contain a jihadist insurgency that first emerged in the north in 2012, and which has since spread to the centre of the country and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of foreign troops in Mali do not appear to have slowed the fighting, and their presence has often stoked controversy in the country.
The urging came as a protest against foreign troops was expected in Mali’s capital Bamako on Tuesday.
Frustration over the long-running conflict contributed to mass protests against president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, which culminated in his ouster in a military coup on August 18.
Goita on Tuesday also called on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to lift economic sanctions it imposed in the wake of the coup.
West African leaders warned last week that they will not lift the sanctions unless Mali’s junta appoints civilian leaders.
The junta on Monday chose retired colonel Bah Ndaw to lead an interim government before staging elections and returning to civilian rule to the poor Sahel country.
“The international community is watching us… which is why we accepted the ECOWAS principles,” Goita said on Tuesday.
“In the coming days ECOWAS must remove these sanctions for the happiness of the Malian people,” he added.
West African leaders have not yet reacted to the nomination of Ndaw — a retiree but also a consumate military man — as interim president.