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Tuaregs stop Mali PM visiting town

29 November 2013, 17:17

Bamako - Tuareg demonstrators on Thursday occupied an airport runway to prevent Mali's Prime Minister Oumar Tatam Ly visiting the rebel-controlled northeastern town of Kidal, officials said.

Protesters said Malian soldiers shot and wounded three of the demonstrators, but the Malian army denied that.

An African military source said troops with the UN military support mission in Mali, Minusma, had tried but failed to stop the demonstrators occupying and blocking the runway.

Ismael Toure, an official in the regional governor's office, told AFP that, as the airport was preparing to receive Ly's plane, "several hundred youths and women backed by the MNLA went to Kidal aerodrome, determined to stop the plane from landing".

Kidal is a stronghold of desert Tuareg tribes. The MNLA, or the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, is one of their armed separatist forces. Azawad is the name the Tuaregs give to northern Mali.

Ly's aides confirmed the incident and said the prime minister had cancelled his trip "for the moment".

The aides said the prime minister had been in Gao, 300km south of Kidal, when the protest occurred.


An African military source said troops with the UN military support mission in Mali, Minusma, had tried but failed to stop the demonstrators occupying and blocking the runway.

Mohamed Ag Kory, one of the Tuareg protesters, told AFP a man and two women were shot and wounded during the protest, adding: "It was the Malian army that shot the three civilians."

An officer in the military general staff in Kidal denied the allegation.

The Malian government later issued a statement saying Malian soldiers had been targeted by stones and gunshots during the protest.

"Alone, confronted with the demonstrators, they fired warning shots," it said, adding its "surprise" that Minusma had not deployed an adequate force to secure the airport.

The MNLA has returned in strength to the town after an intervention in January by French troops in northern Mali to spearhead an offensive against armed Islamic extremist groups, which hijacked a Tuareg rebellion after a coup in Bamako last year.

French soldiers helped rid Kidal, Gao and the other main town in the north, Timbuktu, of al-Qaeda-linked forces, then stayed on to track down jihadists who fell back into the desert.

In retaliation, armed Islamists on 2 November kidnapped and murdered two French journalists near Kidal.



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