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Rowdy protests get Mali transition talks off to chaotic start

BAMAKO, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Talks in Mali about a transition back to civilian rule following last month’s military coup got off to a chaotic start on Saturday as opponents of the deposed president accused the ruling junta of excluding them from some of the negotiations.

Hundreds of representatives from the junta, political parties and civil society groups attended the start of talks in the capital Bamako which are meant to chart a path forward after the Aug. 18 coup that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The military takeover was welcomed by many Malians, tired of violence by Islamist and ethnic militias and alleged high-level corruption. But the junta, the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), is under intense pressure from West African neighbours to swiftly return power to civilians.

Less than an hour after the opening ceremony began, supporters of the M5-RFP coalition, which led mass demonstrations against Keita before the coup, began to protest, accusing the junta of excluding them from most working groups.

M5-RFP supporters in the conference hall shouted down the moderator onstage, bringing proceedings to a halt.

“This smells rotten,” said Moussa Ouattara, an M5-RFP supporter. “The CNSP is in all the groups but the M5-RFP is only in one group.”

The moderator later announced that the M5-RFP would be able to participate in all the working groups, which calmed the coalition’s supporters and allowed the event to resume.

The M5-RFP voiced enthusiastic support for the coup but sharply criticised the junta last week after it wasn’t invited to preliminary consultations about the transition.

The talks, which are also being held in regional capitals across Mali, are scheduled to continue on Sunday and then resume again late next week.

International powers fear the political uncertainty in Bamako could undermine the fight across West Africa’s Sahel region against Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, as a previous coup in 2012 did. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo Writing by Aaron Ross Editing by Peter Graff)

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