Mali marks independence day amid tensions and uncertainty

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BAMAKO, Mali (TBEN) — Malian authorities held a traditional military parade on Thursday to celebrate the country’s first independence day since French troops left after nine years of fighting Islamist extremists in the former colony.

The festivities, with warplanes flying overhead, came as Mali faced mounting condemnation for detaining 46 soldiers from neighboring Côte d’Ivoire who had been deployed to provide security for a company contracted by the United Nations.

Malians sang the national anthem in the streets of Bamako, while others drummed. Wearing the red, green and yellow colors of the Malian flag, Souadou Diabate held a photo of Colonel Assimi Goita, who took power in Mali two years ago in a coup d’état and faces increasing international isolation.

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“It is in difficult times that great nations are built,” she said. “Mali is a country of patriots and brave soldiers.”

In his speech to the nation on the eve of Independence Day, Goita set out his views on foreign relations.

“Our country is concerned about strengthening its relations with all other countries and actively participating in international life,” he said. “But it is important that our partners understand that relations with our state must henceforth be based on the following three principles: respect for Mali’s sovereignty, respect for the strategic choices Mali has made and the defense of the interests of the Malian people in making specific decisions.”

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The departure of the last 2,400 French troops from Mali sparked widespread concern that the withdrawal would pave the way for Islamist insurgents to ramp up their attacks on civilians. Observers question the Malian military’s ability to protect cities in the north, which fell under the control of Islamist extremists from 2012 until the French-led military operation a year later.

To heighten doubts, a Malian general who has led the fight against extremist groups in the Menaka region recently released an audio urging citizens to flee the countryside to protect larger communities.

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“I ask anyone who is in the Djebock area to leave the countryside and go to the cities just to be safe. At the moment, this is the solution to be adopted,” General Alhadj Gamou said in a message addressed to the largely nomadic Tuareg community.

Frustration over the attacks initially helped support Goita, the coup leader, as his junta assured the Malians it would better beat back the insurgents.

Tensions between Goita and the international community have grown as France has decided to relocate its troops in Mali to a more hospitable neighbor, Niger.

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The Bharat Express News writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

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