BAMAKO: The party of a leading Malian politician on Tuesday accused French President Francois Hollande of meddling in the country's politics and trying to turn an occupied northern region into a "French protectorate".
Hollande sparked anger by saying France would ensure that people from Kidal, which is run by the separatist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), would be allowed to take part in upcoming presidential elections.
The National Convention for a United Africa (CNAS), founded by Soumana Sacko, prime minister in the early 1990s and a presidential candidate, condemned "in the strongest terms the recent misguided remarks of President Francois Hollande on the fate of Kidal".
Hollande's comments came on May 16 after a meeting in Paris with his Malian counterpart Dioncounda Traore on the election. The government in Bamako announced Monday that the poll would go ahead on July 28.
"To achieve this, we must ensure that voting can place throughout the entire country so that the elections are not disputed," Hollande said.
"We said that we are ready to assist the Malian civil administration in Kidal in organising elections," he went on, adding that "whatever happens, we will assure ourselves... that Malians can vote anywhere, under control of the civil administration".
The CNAS reacted angrily to the comments, saying that international aid and France's military intervention in Mali did not give Hollande "the right to supplant the Malian authorities and determine in their place the timetable for the return of the civil administration and the Malian army and security forces to Kidal".
France has been pushing strongly for July elections to lead Mali out of a crisis that has crippled the country since Tuareg tribes -- who have long felt marginalised by Bamako -- launched a fresh rebellion in January 2012 for independence in the north.
The revolt led to a military coup which caused chaos in Bamako in turn opened the way for Tuareg rebels and their Islamist allies to seize key northern cities.
The Tuareg were quickly sidelined and the extremists chased them out, imposing a brutal form of sharia law in the cities under their control, but the MNLA has since re-entered Kidal and is occupying the region, refusing to accept the presence of the Malian military or government.
"Going against the tide of history, the anachronistic comments by President Hollande denote a certain paternalism, even a vague desire to transform Kidal, an integral part of Mali, into a French protectorate," the CNAS said.
Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore, appointed mediator for Mali by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on Monday began talks with officials from Bamako and Tuareg leaders to try to open the way to a vote in Kidal.