West African leaders ended a day-long summit in Bamako on Thursday without a consensus on how to alleviate Mali's political troubles. The meeting came as a French soldier was reported killed during an anti-terrorist operation in the east of the country.
Five of the region's leaders met Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and leaders of a protest movement clamouring for his resignation, as a long-running jihadist insurgency threatens to throw the country into chaos.
But the intervention failed to seal a deal and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou -- at the talks along with the leaders of Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria -- said Western African bloc ECOWAS would hold a summit on Monday.
"Nothing has moved for the movement," said one of the protest leaders, imam Mahmoud Dicko, after holding talks with the presidents.
The June 5 Movement, named after the date when the protests began, has tapped into deep anger over Keita's perceived failure to tackle the dire economy, corruption and the eight-year jihadist revolt.
Malians are also incensed at the disputed outcome of long-delayed parliamentary elections in March and April that handed victory to Keita's party.
Suicide bombing in Gao
This comes as a French soldier was killed in the country on Thursday morning during combat operations against militants around 150km to the west of the city of Gao.
According to French President Emmanuel Macron's office, "This soldier was killed in fighting against armed terrorist groups, when an improvised explosive device was triggered next to his armoured vehicle."
Two others were injured in the suicide attack.
France has more than 5,000 troops in the West African Sahel region as part of international efforts to fight Islamist militants in the area.
Thursday's summit came on the heels of a five-day mediation mission from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, which ended on Sunday without reconciling the two sides.
The West African leaders discussed proposed solutions that had been crafted in behind-the-scenes talks between the president and opposition this week.
Keita, who came to power in 2013, has come under increasing pressure to end Mali's long-running jihadist conflict.
The nation of some 20 million people has been struggling to contain the insurgency that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since 2012, despite the presence of foreign troops.
Much of the current tension was sparked in April, when the constitutional court rejected 31 results from the parliamentary elections, benefiting Keita's party and sparking protests.
Hostility ratcheted up into a crisis on 10 July when an anti-Keita rally organised by the June 5 Movement turned violent.
Three days of clashes between protesters and security forces left 11 dead and 158 injured in the worst political unrest Mali had seen in years.
Seeking a way out, ECOWAS mediators suggested forming a new unity government including opposition members and appointing new constitutional court judges who could potentially re-examine disputed election results.
However the June 5 Movement had already rejected any outcome that did not involve Keita's departure.
Despite the apparent failure of the ECOWAS mediators, the president's camp and opposition figures had quietly been talking all week and the June 5 Movement notably suspended protests ahead of the forthcoming Eid festival.
Brema Ely Dicko, a sociologist at the University of Bamako, had suggested the opposition might be prepared to accept Prime Minister Boubou Cissé's resignation instead of Keita's.
"The M5-RFP is obliged to keep up the pressure to at least get something," he said, using the opposition coalition's formal acronym.