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Hollande visits Mali to push for African takeover

President Francois Hollande called on Africans to take over the fight against extremism as he received a rapturous welcome Saturday in Mali, where a French-led offensive has driven back Islamist rebels from the north. The French leader's whirlwind tour came as troops worked to secure Kidal, the last bastion of radicals who seized control of Mali's desert north last year after a coup, raising fears that an area larger than France could become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

Hollande visits Mali to push for African takeover

President Francois Hollande received a rapturous welcome Saturday as he visited Mali to push for African troops to take over a French-led offensive that drove back Islamist rebels from the country's desert north. The French leader's whirlwind tour came as troops worked to secure Kidal, the last bastion of radicals who seized control last year after a coup, raising fears that an area larger than France could become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda-linked fighters.

Back to school, a sign the 'war is over' in Timbuktu

Schoolteacher Ahmed Mohamed Coulibaly wipes the blackboard with a flourish, erasing the last date children came to school in the fabled Malian city of Timbuktu: March 22, 2012. That was the day a group of soldiers ousted Mali's government, paving the way for armed Tuareg and Islamists to capture Timbuktu 10 days later, and marking the beginning of 10 months of brutal rule under their version of Islamic law. Now life in the fabled desert city on the edge of the Sahara is slowly getting back to normal after it was freed on Monday by a French-led offensive.

Paris offers to help restore precious Timbuktu documents

France's national library said Friday it was prepared to lead an international effort to save centuries-old manuscripts feared destroyed or damaged by Islamists as they were chased out of the northern Malian city of Timbuktu. The Bibliotheque Nationale "stands ready to come to the aid of the Ahmed Baba Institute, seriously affected by recent events, in agreement with Malian and French authorities, when the situation allows", the library said in a statement.

French president to visit Mali Saturday

President Francois Hollande will visit Mali on Saturday to express his support for French troops fighting in the former colony and to push for their speedy replacement by African forces. "I am going to Mali to express to our soldiers all our support, encouragement and pride," Hollande said Friday after the announcement of his visit. "I'm also going to ensure that African forces come and join us as quickly as possible and to tell them we need them for this international force."

Timbuktu haunted by horrors of life under Islamist rule

Doctor Ibrahim Maiga is haunted by the memory of the day armed Islamists occupying Timbuktu called him to treat a man whose hand they publicly sawed off with a machete for stealing rice. The gruesome amputation was punishment under the extremists' version of Islamic law, which they imposed for 10 months in Timbuktu and other towns under their control in northern Mali, freed a week ago by French-led troops. "There was only one amputation in Timbuktu during the occupation," said the bespectacled doctor, who stayed in the fabled desert city, unable to abandon his patients.

UPDATE 2-Bulk of Timbuktu manuscripts survived occupation unharmed

* Experts deny media reports of widespread destruction * Malian scholar says 95 percent of texts "safe and sound" * Librarians, citizens hid manuscripts away for safety (Recasts, adds details, quotes, comment from Tombouctou Manuscripts Project Website) By Pascal Fletcher

Bulk of Timbuktu manuscripts safe, unharmed -experts

DAKAR, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The vast majority of Timbuktu's ancient manuscripts in state and private collections appear to be unharmed after the city's 10-month occupation by Islamist rebel fighters, who did burn some of the scripts, experts said on Wednesday. "I can say that the vast majority of the collections appear from our reports not to have been destroyed, damaged or harmed in any way," Cape Town University's Professor Shamil Jeppie, an expert on the Saharan city's manuscripts, told Reuters.

UPDATE 4-Mali secures recaptured towns, donors pledge funds

* House-to-house searches for rebels in Gao, Timbuktu * Donors pledge $455 million for African force, more needed * Pockets of Islamist fighters still reported outside towns * France sees African troops taking over security role (Adds details on US aid to Mali operation) By Richard Valdmanis and Adama Diarra
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