West Africa's main regional bloc will close borders with Mali and impose stringent economic sanctions in response to an "unacceptable" delay by the country in holding promised elections after a 2020 military coup, the organisation says.
The move by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a significant hardening of its stance on Mali, whose interim authorities have proposed holding elections in December 2025 instead of this February as originally agreed.
In a statement issued after an emergency summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule totally unacceptable.
This schedule "simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage," it said.
The 15-member bloc said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect.
These included the closure of members' land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, and the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and by the central bank of the eight-nation West African CFA franc zone.
There was no immediate response from the Malian authorities, who have blamed the delay partly on the challenge of organising a democratically robust vote amid a violent Islamist insurgency.
Under previous sanctions, Mali's ECOWAS membership is suspended and members of the transitional authority and their relatives are subject to travel bans and asset freezes.
The new measures will be gradually lifted only after an acceptable election timeframe is finalised and progress is made towards implementing it, ECOWAS said.
The tougher response reflects the pressure the organisation is under to show it can protect democracy from a backslide to military rule after West and Central Africa saw four coups within 18 months.
Immediately after Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita was ousted in 2020, ECOWAS temporarily closed its borders with Mali and halted financial flows - short-term sanctions that caused a sharp fall in imports to the landlocked country.
Mali's political upheaval has also deepened tensions with former colonial power France, which has thousands of soldiers deployed across West Africa's Sahel region to battle Islamist insurgents.