Reuters International

By Souleymane Anara

GAO, Mali (Reuters) - Malian soldiers opened fire on anti-government demonstrators in the northern city of Gao on Tuesday, killing three and wounding at least 31, two doctors at a hospital that received the bodies told Reuters.

The protesters were angry about the introduction of a new interim authority set to take charge of the region on Friday, which they said would give power to armed groups and would not benefit local people.

The Malian government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A year ago the government signed a peace deal with Tuareg-led rebels aimed at ending a long conflict that has destabilised the desert country and made it a base for violent jihad. There are signs the pact is unravelling.

The government and the rebel alliance - Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) - accuse each other of stalling on implementation and the rebels complain that the U.N.-backed deal falls short of their demands.

Thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of Gao, marching to the central police station and surrounding it on Tuesday. Many young people had knives, a Reuters witness said.

Protesters set fire to tyres, filling the air with acrid smoke, and pelted the police with stones. Security forces attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas then the military opened fire, killing three people and wounding dozens.

"Look, I was shot in my arm and foot," said a man running away from the crowd, nursing bleeding wounds.

Shooting had stopped and much of the crowd had been dispersed by 11 a.m. (1200 BST), but a heavy military presence continued to patrol the streets.

The United Nations Security Council decided last week to add 2,500 peacekeepers to the mission in Mali in order to "move to a more proactive and robust posture" in the fight against militancy, the resolution said.

French forces intervened in 2013 to drive back Islamist fighters who had hijacked the Tuareg uprising to seize Mali's desert north in 2012. The militants have since reorganized and launched a wave of attacks.

(Reporting Souleymane Anara; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Nellie Peyton and Janet Lawrence)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International