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Fifty arrested in Islamist hold-out in Mali: military

Malian troops have arrested about 50 people on an island in the Niger river that was used as a hide-out by armed Islamists in northern Mali, military sources told AFP Friday. On Friday morning, an AFP correspondent on the island of Kadji, near the town of Gao, saw two boats filled with prisoners, all bearded and with shaved heads, crossing the Niger. A Malian soldier who was escorting one of the boats said that since the beginning of the operation on Thursday about 50 people had been arrested, including foreigners from Togo and Burkina Faso.

Troops target Islamists hiding on Mali island: military

French and Malian troops launched an operation Thursday in the village of Kadji, northern Mali, where Islamists are hiding out on an island in the Niger river, a military source told AFP. "A big operation is under way on the island of Kadji," said a Mali senior officer, who asked not to be named. Malian special forces landed on the island early Thursday afternoon, while French soldiers took position on the banks of the Niger river across from the island.

URGENT ¥¥¥ Mali troops fire heavy weapons at Gao town hall

Malian soldiers on Friday fired rocket-propelled grenades at the town hall in Gao, where armed Islamist forces had been holed up the previous day during heavy fighting, an AFP journalist reported. It was not immediately possible to determine whether Islamists were still active inside the building in the northern town. A Malian soldier earlier said "many" bodies of dead fighters wore explosives belts, both in the town hall and the nearby court house. alc-stb/mrb/nb/jmm

Timbuktu chose 'passive resistance' to Islamist occupiers

Timbuktu has been part of three empires, survived invasions and had countless rulers, and it met its 10-month occupation by Islamist extremists with the stoicism of a city that has seen centuries of history. The insurgents of Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith) ruled Timbuktu under a brutal form of Islamic law, or sharia, from the time they seized the city in the chaotic aftermath of a March military coup until French-led troops reclaimed it last week.

FACTBOX-Timbuktu, ancient trading town caught up in Mali's war

Jan 28 (Reuters) - The Malian town of Timbuktu, recaptured from Islamist rebels by French and Malian troops, is an ancient centre of Islamic culture that grew rich in the 14th and 15th centuries as a trading post for gold and salt crossing the Sahara. Here are some facts about the town: * Timbuktu has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Founded in 1100 by Tuareg nomads, it was once the richest town in the ancient empire of Mali, whose wealth came from the trans-Saharan caravan trade.

UPDATE 6-French, Malian forces capture Gao rebel stronghold

* France says about a dozen "terrorists" killed in operation * Gao action reveals rapid French advance against Islamists * AQIM leader vows resistance to "new Crusader aggression" * African force struggles with logistics, seeks help (Adds Panetta, Le Drian call) By Richard Valdmanis and Yann Le Guernigou

French target Islamist posts in Gao, Timbuktu strikes: minister

PARIS, Jan 20 (Reuters) - French forces have launched air strikes in the Mali regions of Timbuktu and Gao in recent days and will continue to do so as they target command posts of Islamist militants, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday. "French forces, and notably air forces, are striking terrorist strongholds, that's the case in the region of Gao, it's the case in the Timbuktu region. It will continue," the minister said in a TV interview.
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