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Protesters injured in Mali demonstrations as U.N. calls for calm


By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) - Police in Mali's capital Bamako fired into the air on Monday to disperse protesters calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign, witnesses said, hours after the United Nations condemned the use of lethal force against demonstrators.

Several people were injured by falling bullets and tear gas canisters in the Badalabougou neighbourhood, three witnesses said. The area is a hotbed of a month-long protest movement denouncing Keita's failure to quash militia violence or address the disputed results of recent legislative elections.

The government declined requests for comment.

The clashes came after a chaotic few days in Bamako beginning on Friday, when demonstrators occupied state buildings and police opened fire.

The M5-RFP, a coalition of religious, political and civil society leaders leading the protests, said on Monday that 20 people had been killed since Friday.

The government has acknowledged four deaths.

The M5-RFP has rejected concessions offered by Keita as insufficient, including his offer to dissolve the Constitutional Court.

A Reuters witness heard gunfire in Badalabougou on Monday and said groups of young men were manning improvised barricades.

"It all started around 7:30 a.m., the police came and dismantled some of our barricades. The clashes started, they fired incessantly, gas of all kinds and firearms," said 33-year-old trader Mohamed Doumbia.

Monday's clashes came after the U.N. mission in Mali, the African Union, West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the European Union jointly criticised Malian authorities for their response to the protests.

The organisations "condemn the use of lethal force in the context of maintaining public order and invite all stakeholders to exercise restraint," they said in a statement late on Sunday.

M5-RFP leaders arrested over the weekend were released on Monday, as the organisations recommended in the statement, an M5-RFP spokesman said.

International powers fear turmoil in Mali could undermine their military campaigns against Islamist insurgents in West Africa's Sahel region. The United Nations has over 13,000 peacekeeping soldiers in Mali, the epicentre of much of the violence.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister, Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)

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