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French-led troops in Mali seize airport at Islamist bastion

Published on Jan 26, 2013 9:19 PM
 
This handout picture taken on Jan 24, 2013, and released on Jan 25, 2013, by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD), shows Chadian soldiers aboard a French Hercule C130 military aircraft in N'Djamena. French-led troops on Saturday, Jan 26, 2013, seized the airport and a key bridge serving the Islamist stronghold of Gao in a major boost to a 16-day-old offensive to rout Al Qaeda-linked rebels from Mali's sprawling desert north. -- PHOTO: AFP

BAMAKO (AFP) - French-led troops on Saturday seized the airport and a key bridge serving the Islamist stronghold of Gao in a major boost to a 16-day-old offensive to rout Al Qaeda-linked rebels from Mali's sprawling desert north.

The stunning advance came as the extremist Muslim group controlling Gao since June said it was ready for talks to free a 61-year-old French hostage kidnapped in November.

In a parallel movement, Chadian troops deployed in Mali's eastern neighbour Niger started rolling towards the border to join a contingent of Niger soldiers as part of African efforts to boost the French-led offensive.

"They are a very big contingent and they have tanks and four-wheel drives with machineguns," a Niger security source said.

 
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