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Malian army seeks out remaining rebels in Gao

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-02-22

Heavy gunfire was reported in the northern Malian city of Gao early on Thursday as the army closed in on a group of remaining Islamist rebels holed up in the mayor’s office.

Malian troops opened fire on the mayor's office in the northern town of Gao with mounted machine guns on Thursday to try to dislodge suspected Islamist gunmen holed up inside, witnesses said.

Between 15 and 20 Islamists were killed in the battle which also left two French soldiers and four Malian troops wounded, France's defence ministry said Friday.

The battle on Thursday saw Islamists briefly occupying the city's courthouse and the city hall before French-backed troops repelled the attackers.

Gunfire and explosions rang out in the early hours across the town, where French and Malian troops have been working to secure the area against bombings and guerrilla attacks by Islamist rebels, witnesses said.

French and Malian military spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on what led to the clash.

Gao: A 'favourite' for Islamist militants

Gao is the biggest town in northern Mali, which was retaken from al Qaeda-linked Islamists last month in a lightning French offensive on behalf of the Malian government.

A Reuters journalist near the mayor's office said six Malian military pickups were deployed in the square nearby on Thursday and had opened fire with the heavy machineguns.

A Gao resident said he heard an explosion and then saw a Malian military vehicle on fire in a nearby street. The cause of the blast and fire was unclear.

Thursday's clashes came nearly two weeks after French and Malian forces fought hours of street battles with Islamists who had infiltrated the town.

In the city Kidal, at least two people were wounded in a car bombing on Thursday near barracks housing French and Chadian soldiers.

"Two civilians were wounded, they are at the hospital. No one has yet approached the vehicle to see if the driver was still alive."

On Friday two more suicide bombings killed five people, two of them attackers, near the north-eastern town of Tessalit. The bombers specifically targeted civilians, security sources told AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-02-21

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