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French first lady tells of 'huge' feelings for Mali

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France's first lady Valerie Trierweiler said at the end of a 48-hour tour of war-torn Mali on Friday that the experience had brought up "huge" feelings in her.

President Francois Hollande's partner, in the former French colony as "part of a mission for children and women", has visited hospital patients and school children, highlighting the important role of female soldiers in securing peace.

"I'll never forget (this trip) because what I felt was truly huge," she told a press conference before returning to Paris on Friday night.

"Mali needs a lot of things in humanitarian terms," she said, adding that her purpose had been primarily to appeal for donations and "draw attention to what was still needed".

Trierweiler accompanied her Malian counterpart Mintou Traore throughout the visit, which came with France nearing the end of an offensive to push Al Qaeda-linked militants out of the main cities of Mali's vast desert north.

The rebels have largely been driven out by the French action, launched on January 11 with the Malian army and other African forces, but the militants continue to stage suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks from desert and mountain hideouts.

Trierweiler said on her arrival on Wednesday her presence was "a very good symbol" as Hollande and Malian leader Dioncounda Traore attended a Brussels conference which raised 3.25 billion euros to help Mali recover from the conflict.

She revealed as she prepared to leave that she had already visited Mali in 2003 and 2007, and said her latest trip was a reminder "that France was there for the liberation and it will be there for the rebuilding".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130517/french-first-lady-tells-huge-feelings-mali