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Malian president's party wins legislative elections

Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita gestures as he addresses a news conference following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at t
Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita gestures as he addresses a news conference following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at t

By Tiemoko Diallo

BAMAKO (Reuters) - The party of Mali's president and its political allies have won a comfortable majority in a parliamentary election intended to seal to a return to democratic civilian rule following an army coup in March 2012.

Completion of the vote should unlock $3.25 billion pledged by donors to rebuild Mali and develop the lawless desert north, where Islamists seized control in the aftermath of the coup.

France intervened militarily in January to drive the al Qaeda-linked fighters from northern towns, clearing the way for a presidential election won by Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

In preliminary results for the parliamentary vote, Keita's RPM party finished first after the second of two legs, securing 61 of a total of 147 seats in parliament, according to his chief of staff, Mahamadou Camara.

Adema, the RPM's principal ally, finished second with 20 seats, according to Abdoulaye Maiga, a member of the party's leadership, while smaller parties backing Keita also won seats.

The URD - the party of Soumaila Cisse, who lost the presidential runoff to Keita and is now positioning himself as the leading opposition figure - claimed 18 of a total of 24 seats for opposition parties, a party spokesman said.

Results by constituency were announced on state television by Minister of Territorial Administration Moussa Sinko Coulibaly but still need to be ratified by Mali's constitutional court.

While the November 15 second round of voting saw none of the abuses, including ballot box theft, that marred the earlier first round, turnout was low.

Coulibaly said just over 37 percent of Mali's 6.8 million registered voters participated in the polls, down from 38.5 percent in the first round. The first round of the presidential election in July saw record turnout of 49 percent.

TALKS IN TROUBLE?

While France's military operation pushed the Islamists out of cities and towns, isolated cells have remained active and Mali has suffered a surge in Islamist violence since Keita was elected in an August runoff.

The intervention also allowed Tuareg separatist rebels, who were initially allied with the Islamists before being sidelined by them, to remain armed in the northern region of Kidal.

The presidential and legislative elections were only able to go forward after Mali's post-coup transitional authority signed a ceasefire agreement with the Tuaregs promising negotiations on the future status of Kidal.

Progress towards talks has been slow however. And peace hopes suffered a blow last month after some rebels said they were ending the five-month-old ceasefire over clashes between government troops and protesters in Kidal.

Though some Tuareg leaders later denounced the declaration, relations with the central government are increasingly tense. Speaking at the inauguration of a hydroelectric project, Keita said on Tuesday he would not negotiate with armed groups.

"Those who want peace will negotiate with the Malian government without weapons. No rebel can raise himself up to my level to discuss as equals," he said. "Nowhere is that permitted and it will not be permitted by the government."

France has 2,800 troops stationed in Mali but aims to reduce its military presence to 1,000 by February as it hands security responsibilities to the Malian army and the U.N. force. The U.N. mission, launched in July, is still at roughly half its 12,600-man planned strength.

(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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