France’s air force has carried out an air strike in Mali as it supported government forces trying to halt a push south by Islamist rebels who control the north. Asked at a news conference whether there had been an air strike since France began its military intervention a few hours earlier, Fabius replied, “Yes.” He said as far as he knew France was the only country that was assisting the Malian government militarily for now. Meanwhile, Mali’s interim president Dioncounda Traore declared a state of emergency as government forces battled to hold back al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters threatening to push south from their northern strongholds. France’s armed forces began military intervention in Mali to help the government stem a push south by Islamist rebels who control much of the north, President Francois Hollande said. “French forces brought their support this afternoon to Malian army units to fight against terrorist elements,” President Hollande told reporters. “This operation will last as long as is necessary.” Mr Hollande said United Nations Security Council resolutions meant France was acting in accordance with international laws. Earlier, Mr Hollande had made it clear that France would intervene to stop any further drive southward by Islamist rebels. Malian soldiers launched a counter-offensive to wrest back a town captured by militants this week. Western powers fear the alliance of al-Qaeda-linked militants that seized the northern two-thirds of Mali in April will seek to use the vast desert zone as a launchpad for international attacks.

Mali’s government appealed for urgent military aid from France on yesterday. Islamist fighters encroached further south, seizing the town of Konna in the centre of the country. The rebel advance caused panic among residents in the nearby towns of Mopti and Sevare, home to a military base and airport. “We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali’s very existence. France cannot accept this,” Hollande said in a New Year speech to diplomats and journalists. “We will be ready to stop the terrorists’ offensive if it continues.” The UNSC in December authorised the deployment of an African-led force supported by European states. “The French believe that France, and Europe, face a real security threat from what is happening in the Sahel,” said Jakkie Cilliers, executive director of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. More than two decades worth of peaceful elections had earned the Mali a reputation as a bulwark of democracy in a part of Africa better known for turmoil – an image that unraveled in a matter of weeks after a coup last March that paved the way for the Islamist rebellion. Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer and a major cotton grower, and home to the fabled northern desert city of Timbuktu – an ancient trading hub and UNESCO World Heritage site that hosted annual music festivals before the rebellion. (RTE News)
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