Tens of thousands of Muslims attend anti-govt rally in Mali
Tens of thousands of Malians gathered on Sunday in Bamako for a rally called by the country's chief Muslim leaders, who accuse the government of failing to bring stability back to the nation plagued by jihadist attacks.
Huge crowds packed out the capital's 60 000-seat stadium, with many veiled women sitting in stands separated from the male attendees, according to an AFP reporter.
"It's a rally to challenge the government and a mass prayer for my country," influential imam Mahmoud Dicko, who presides over the Islamic High Council (IHC), told AFP ahead of the gathering.
"Our country is faced with a governance problem. This rally wants to draw attention to that. People need to talk to each other," said Dicko who organised Sunday's event with Bouye Haidara, another major Muslim leader.
One of Mali's most prominent public figures, Dicko has become a key mediator between the government and extremists who took control of large swathes of the country's north in 2012.
Despite French military intervention and a peace deal signed in 2015, jihadist attacks have continued and important stretches of the landlocked Sahel nation remain out of state control.
While Dicko, 64, has condemned jihadist violence, he has also repeatedly pushed for dialogue to help solve the security crisis plaguing Mali, one of the world's poorest countries.
"Our guide, our leader, is Mahmoud Dicko," said minibus driver Moussa Dicko (no relation to Mahmoud Dicko) at Sunday's rally, adding that he took the day off to join the gathering.
Dicko is a follower of Wahhabism, which he studied in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of this ultraconservative Sunni doctrine.
In December, the imam spearheaded a campaign against a sex education school book advocating a more tolerant view of homosexuality, which is taboo in Mali.
Dicko and his followers slammed the Dutch-financed proposal for "wanting to teach homosexuality to school children".
The government eventually backed down and dropped the project.
Dicko also stirred controversy in 2015 when he said jihadist attacks were "divine punishment" for Mali adopting more liberal Western traditions.