1,000 march in Mali urging swift action against Islamists

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BAMAKO (AFP) – Around 1,000 people marched on Saturday through the streets of Bamako to demand a swift international intervention to reclaim northern Mali, which armed Islamist groups have been occupying for eight months.

“We cannot allow half of our country to remain in the hands of criminals. The international community must understand that and help Mali,” said one of the demonstrators, student Hamadoun Diallo.

Several political parties had called the protest, as the north remains in the grips of the Islamist movements Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, its offshoot the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and homegrown group Ansar Dine.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has 3,300 troops on standby to help Mali’s crippled military wrest back control of the region but is waiting for a go-ahead from the UN Security Council.

On Wednesday, Mali issued a fresh appeal to the UN for a green light on the intervention, but UN chief Ban Ki-moon responded that the council needed a more detailed plan to give its backing and that talks should be given a chance.

Mali, once considered one of west Africa’s most stable democracies, was plunged into chaos by a March coup that created a power vacuum enabling the Islamist groups to grab control of the north.

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