BAMAKO (Reuters) - Police in Mali fired tear gas and water cannon at daybreak on Wednesday to disperse hundreds of protesters who had occupied and spent the night in a square in the capital Bamako, demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Thousands of people had gathered at Independence Square in Bamako on Tuesday after the opposition resumed protests as talks mediated by West African regional leaders to resolve the crisis stalled. [nL8N2FD5YQ]
Rokia Diarra, a resident of the neighbourhood, told Reuters that clashes started around 0600 GMT after the police arrived and fired several rounds of tear gas.
"There was panic. The demonstrators scrambled for safety. Some were trampled," Diarra said.
Photos on social media showed the square hazy with gas. A spokesman for the government was not available for comment.
The protests led by an opposition coalition called M5-RFP have gained momentum in the West African country since June following a contested legislative election in March. Protesters also accuse the government of corruption and incompetence.
The demonstrations have sometimes led to violence. Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday that Mali's security forces have used excessive force against protesters.
HRW said at least 14 people were killed and over 300 wounded, including demonstrators, bystanders, and security force members during three days of unrest in July. [nL5N2EO3G3]
Mali has struggled to regain stability since a 2012 uprising by Tuaregs in the north was hijacked by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants.
Despite being dispersed by a France-led intervention, and the presence of thousands of peacekeepers, the Islamists, including those linked to Islamic State, have continued to carry out attacks and spread to neighbouring countries.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Mark Heinrich)