BAMAKO - Mali's state television ORTM went off air on Friday after hundreds of protesters demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita occupied the building, according to Reuters witnesses.
A rally in the capital Bamako descended into chaos as protesters tried to occupy buildings including the national assembly, the state broadcasting house and two major bridges, while police fired tear gas to disperse them.Police also fired several rounds of gunfire as they tried to force protesters out the building.
Leaders of the protest had called on supporters to occupy buildings including the Prime Minister's office and other locations at the start of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign for failing to tackle Mali's security and economic problems.
A journalist inside the ORTM building told Reuters by telephone that she was preparing her newscast when protesters stormed the building and that people were asked to barricade themselves in their offices.
A few kilometres away, other protesters pelted the national assembly with rocks, shattering its glass facade.
Gunshots could also be heard in the vicinity of both the national assembly and the ORTM building, a Reuters witness said.
Videos shared on social media sites showed a fire burning outside the assembly building while some protesters ran away from it apparently carrying files, computers, furniture and other items. The videos' authenticity could not be verified by Reuters.
The protest, the third since June, came after a coalition that opposes Keita rejected concessions he had offered aimed at resolving a months-long political stand-off that began after a disputed legislative election in March.
Thousands of protesters had earlier filled the city's Independence Square, chanting and waving banners that said: "Enough is Enough" and "IBK, clear off", referring to the president.
The impasse is a growing concern for Mali's neighbours and outside powers, who worry it could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against Islamist insurgents in the West African Sahel region.
Influential Muslim cleric Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the leaders of the opposition protest in Mali, told France24 television that they had dropped the demand for the president to resign but want further gestures from him.
"This is because we think it (the resignation) will cause more problems than it will resolve," Dicko said. "Mali's problem is not about a government of national unity. It is a problem of governance."
However, some protesters are still calling for the president to step down.
Keita was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term, but his leadership has faced mounting opposition amid a surge in jihadist violence and an economic crisis.