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FRENCH POLITICS

France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

France hit back on Tuesday at Mali's decision to renounce a military cooperation agreement as "unjustified" and said it would not change the military withdrawal that is underway and follows a falling-out with the ruling junta.

France calls Mali's exit from defence accords 'unjustified'
French soldiers from Operation Barkhane stand at attention (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP)

After several weeks of threats, Bamako announced on Monday that it was quitting the 2014 accords, accusing French troops of “flagrant violations” of its sovereignty.

It was the latest confirmation of deteriorating relations between the junta in Mali and the former colonial power.

A foreign ministry spokesman told reporters that Paris “considers that this decision is unjustified and absolutely contests any violation of the bilateral legal framework”.

France has begun removing soldiers serving in the Barkhane force from Mali following two coups in the country and rising tensions with the military-controlled government.

“France will continue the withdrawal in good order of its military presence in Mali, in line with the commitments it has made to its partners,” the ministry spokesman said.

The French army issued a statement adding it considered the defence accords were still valid “until the last French soldier has left Malian territory”.

The heated exchanges between the two capitals came as diplomats said the UN Security Council had held a closed-door session on Mali on Tuesday at Russia’s request.

Mali had complained to the global body about alleged multiple violations of its airspace by French forces, with Russia accusing Paris of spreading lies against Moscow and Bamako, diplomats said.

Bamako has also recently accused the French army of spying and banned two French broadcasters for making “false accusations”.

‘Profound deterioration’

Junta spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga had said on Monday, “For some time now, the government of the Republic of Mali notes with regret a profound deterioration in military cooperation with France.”

He referred to the June 2021 decision by France to end joint operations with Malian forces and the decision taken in February to pull out thousands of French troops from Mali.

France has already pulled out of advanced bases in Tessalit, Timbuktu and Gossi but still has to leave Menaka and Gao. “The withdrawal will be completed before the end of summer,” the army said.

The United Nations is set to decide in June whether to maintain its 14,000-strong military and police mission in Mali.

The France-Mali defence accords were signed in 2014 after Paris intervened to stop a jihadist offensive.

But since a first military coup in August 2020, France’s relationship with Mali cooled as the junta resisted international pressure to set a timetable for a swift return to democratic, civilian rule.

The junta initially promised to restore civilian rule, but failed to meet a commitment to West African regional bloc ECOWAS to hold elections in February this year and is now under regional sanctions.

Paris and Washington have objected to the regime’s rapprochement with the Kremlin, accusing Bamako of allowing in mercenaries from Kremlin-linked security firm Wagner.

Vast swathes of Mali lie beyond government control because of the jihadist insurgency, which began in 2012 before spreading three years later to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The conflict led to thousands of military and civilian deaths and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

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FRENCH POLITICS

France wants ‘respect’ for human rights and abortion in Italy after far-right victory

France will be 'attentive' to the respect of the right to abortion and other human rights in Italy following the election victory of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday.

France wants 'respect' for human rights and abortion in Italy after far-right victory

“Obviously we will be attentive, with the president of the European Commission, that these values of human rights, the respect of one another, notably the respect of abortion rights, are respected by all,” Borne told BFM television.

But Borne declined to comment directly on the strong showing for Meloni’s Brotherhood of Italy party on Sunday, which should see the eurosceptic populist party secure a majority in both houses of parliament.

“I am not going to comment on the democratic choice of the Italian people,” she said.

EXPLAINED Is Brothers of Italy a far-right party?

Meloni, head of the Brotherhood of Italy party, has said she will maintain the country’s abortion law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out.

Yet she has raised alarm among women’s rights advocates by saying she wants to “give to women who think abortion is their only choice the right to make a different choice.”

Her party has also pledged new steps to defend and promote Europe’s “Judeo-Christian” roots, prompting concern among minority groups.

For all the latest on the Italian elections, check out our sister site The Local Italy – access is free to members of The Local France.

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