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article imageMalians welcome French troops as city of Gao liberated

By Robert Myles     Jan 28, 2013 in World
Bamako - Thousands of Malians turned out on the streets of the northern Mali city of Gao yesterday, the largest city in northern Mali, to welcome French and Malian soldiers with chants of, “Mali, Mali, France, France."
Malians in Gao, which is the largest city in northern Mali, danced in the streets on Sunday as they welcomed the arrival of French and Malian troops as liberators of their city, reports 20 minutes.
Gao, 950 km northeast of Bamako, Timbuktu and Kidal is one of three cities in northern Mali which fell under the sway of Islamists following the military coup of March 2012 in Bamako, the capital of Mali.
The Mali conflict zones of control as at 26 January 2013
The Mali conflict zones of control as at 26 January 2013
Wikimedia Commons - Orionist
Whilst under Islamist control, the people of Gao had been forbidden from listening to music and smoking cigarettes. The Islamist Ansar Dine and the Mouvement pour l'unicité et le djihad en Afrique de l'Ouest (Mujao) — the Movement for the uniqueness of the jihad in West Africa — had also insisted on women wearing the veil and, more menacingly, had dispensed summary justice, the punishment of thieving being hand amputation.
At the weekend, there was more of a carnival atmosphere in Gao, with dancing and street bands. A number of Malians on the streets were smoking and many men came dressed in shorts signalling their defiance of the ban on this mode of dress when the city was under Islamist control, on the pretext of it being contrary to Sharia law. Many youths toured the streets on mopeds, waving the flags of Mali, France and Niger in celebration of the arrival of Malian and French soldiers.
Gao was the latest town to be liberated and Euronews reports that the international intervention forces under the banner of AFISMA (African-led International Support Mission to Mali) continues to push rebels out of key cities and towns following a two week offensive by a combined force of African and French troops.
Speaking to Reuters, Hawa Toure, a 25 year old woman dressed in colourful traditional African dress, which had been prohibited under Sharia law which deemed the neckline revealing some bare flesh too daring, said, “We can now breathe freely. Today, we are as free as the wind. We thank all our friends around the world who helped us.”
Malian Army Colonel, Didier Dako, proclaiming the city of Gao liberated when addressing the crowds, said, "I thank France and all friendly countries have helped Mali."
The youth of Gao were reporting that Islamist rebels and their supporters were still hiding in and around Gao. As a portent of how vicious the struggle for Mali could become, one youth, speaking anonymously said, "Even yesterday, we found one hiding in a house and we cut his throat. Today, we found another and turned him over to the army."
Human rights organisations have expressed fears of a campaign ethnic cleansing being mounted against the clearer skinned northern Malians who some have claimed sympathise with the Islamists, the latter counting many nomadic Tuaregs and Arabs in their ranks.
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