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Cablegate: Police Tear Gas Islamic Group in Bamako

VZCZCXRO5606
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHBP #1357 3301623
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 261623Z NOV 07
FM AMEMBASSY BAMAKO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8442
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS BAMAKO 001357

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KISL SOCI PHUM PINR PGOV ML
SUBJECT: POLICE TEAR GAS ISLAMIC GROUP IN BAMAKO

REF: BAMAKO 01336

1.(SBU) An estimated 40 individuals were slightly injured on
November 13 in Bamako when Malian security forces used tear
gas and batons to disrupt a protest meeting organized by
Modibo Sangare, the president of the National Union for
Rebirth (UNPR). The UNPR is a fringe political party
dedicated to the preservation of Islamic values. Sangare and
his supporters, including many women in full hijab, gathered
to express opposition to proposed legislation that would
abolish the death penalty and provide increased rights for
women and children (reftel). The UNPR intended to hold a
protest march but failed to receive the required permits from
Bamako city officials. Sangare consequently converted the
march into a "meeting" at UNPR headquarters.

2.(SBU) As an outspoken advocate of Sharia law, Sangare is
at the extreme of Mali's Muslim society and has little if any
support amongst the Malian public. The UNPR holds no elected
offices. Sangare said lack of funds prohibited the UNPR from
conducting a census of its members and was therefore unable
to provide details on the number of UNPR members. Despite
Sangare's obvious lack of support amongst the Malian public,
his vocal opposition to the new legislation introduced by
President Amadou Toumani Toure, and the city of Bamako's
repeated refusals to give the UNPR permission to march, have
translated into a significant amount of local press coverage.
A report of the November 13 meeting in the government
newspaper "L'Essor" quoted Sangare as saying "the moment has
come for Muslims to break with pacifism, which is starting to
lead our country down the wrong path. It is time for this
situation to change. We need to show our strength, because
we are fighting on God's behalf. He who gives his life to
God does not die in vain." Police then tear-gassed the
meeting.

3.(SBU) Sangare ran for President of Mali in 2002, receiving
less than 12,000 votes. In 2007 Sangare failed to qualify
for the presidential ballot after the UNPR proved unable to
pay the USD 20,000 registration fee. In a brief discussion
with the Embassy, Sangare described himself as Mali's only
"Muslim" presidential candidate - a pointed jab at the
secular platforms of Mali's mainstream political leaders and
parties. Despite his strident rhetoric, Sangare rejected the
use of violence and said the UNPR would fight against any
attempt to abolish the death penalty in Mali with acts of
civil disobedience such as sit-ins, protest marches and calls
for nation wide referendums.

4.(SBU) Sangare favors the strict application of Sharia law
and said he supported public stoning and the amputations of
hands in accordance with the Koran. He also advocated for
separate public transport facilities for men and women, and
separate health care systems for men and women patients and
doctors. Sangare attributed what he regards as a decline in
Malian morality to Mali's failure to implement the death
penalty since the 1980s, the abolition of child labor and
laws forbidding parents from beating their children. "We
were whipped as children," said Sangare of his generation of
Malians, "and it didn't kill us."

5.(SBU) Despite his fundamentalist views and disagreement
with certain aspects of U.S. foreign policy, Sangare said he
looked up to the U.S. as an important defender of religious
freedom. He noted that elected officials in the U.S. take
oaths of office on a bible and that "In God We Trust" is
written on U.S. currency. He also contrasted American
acceptance of veiled Muslim women with laws in France banning
Muslim girls from wearing head scarves to school.

6.(SBU) Comment: Sangare and the UNPR have little to no
support in the arena of Malian public opinion, even though
Sangare's outspoken opposition to legislation abolishing the
death penalty resonated with many Malian Muslims.
Ironically, Bamako city official's heavy-handed treatment of
the UNPR's request for marching permits may have actually
boosted the party's level of support and public profile,
eliciting some sentiments of solidarity from more mainstream
opposition parties, including the African Solidary for
Democracy and Independence (SADI). SADI condemned the use of
force against the UNPR on November 13 and described Malian
authorities' actions as a violation of democratic liberties.
McCulley

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