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BREAKING NEWS: France Launches Air Strike In Mali

The French air force carried out an air strike in Mali on Friday in support of government forces trying to push back Islamist rebels, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
The raid came as France launched a military intervention in the west African state to help the government resist a push south by rebel forces.

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.

"French forces brought their support this afternoon to Malian army units to fight against terrorist elements," French President Francois Hollande told reporters. "This operation will last as long as is necessary."

Hollande said United Nations Security Council resolutions meant France was acting in accordance with international laws.

Earlier, Hollande had made it clear that France would intervene to stop any further drive southward by Islamist rebels as Malian soldiers launched a counter-offensive to wrest back a town captured by militants this week.

Mali's government appealed for urgent military aid from France on Thursday after Islamist fighters encroached further south, seizing the town of Konna in the center 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 U.N. Security Council in December authorized 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.
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