Official: Islamists impose sharia in Timbuktu

Associated Press
Soldiers stand guard at junta headquarters in Kati, outskirt Bamako, Mali Tuesday, April 3, 2012. With coup leader Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo refusing to step down, surrounding nations have imposed severe financial sanctions on Mali, including the closing of the country's borders and the freezing of its account at the regional central bank. (AP Photo/Rukmini Callimachi)
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BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A government official and two other witnesses say the leader of an Islamic rebel faction has called a meeting in the northern city of Timbuktu to announce it will be imposing sharia law in the fabled desert outpost.

Mayor of Timbuktu Ousmane Halle said Wednesday that Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of the Ansar Dine rebel faction, asked to see the city's imams on Tuesday. At the meeting, he announced they will soon require all women to be veiled.

The director of a communal radio station, Kader Kalil — asked to cover the meeting — confirmed the edict.

Kalil said Ag Ghali said convicted thieves would now have a hand cut off, and adulterers will be stoned to death.

Baptist pastor Nock Ag Info Yattara said 95 percent of the city's 300 Christians have fled since the city fell to the rebels on Sunday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Mali's main political parties said on Wednesday that they will not take part in a national convention being organized by the military officers who seized control of the country in a coup two weeks ago.

The army captain who ousted the nation's democratically elected leader proposed holding the convention in an attempt to appease the international community, which is demanding that he immediately restore constitutional order.

The convention was to begin Thursday and Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo had invited all the actors of society to take part, especially the political class. The purpose of the convention was to decide on the way forward and establish what kind of transitional body will lead the country before new elections are held.

The nations bordering Mali deemed that the convention was a stall tactic allowing Sanogo to stay at the helm of the country for an indefinite amount of time. On Monday, they imposed a diplomatic and economic embargo on Mali in an effort to force out the military junta.

The refusal by the United Front for the Safeguarding of the Democracy and the Republic to take part in the convention is likely to rob the process of any legitimacy. The FDR represents over 40 parties, including the party of Dionkounda Traore, the head of the country's national assembly, and the party of Soumaila Cisse, who came in second in the 2002 presidential election.

"We do not recognize the authority of these soldiers. This military committee does not have the legitimacy to convene such a convention to lead the way of this crisis," said Tiebeli Drame, one of the leaders of the coalition.

A delegation of officials from Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Ivory Coast were due to come to Bamako on Thursday in order to try to persuade the coup leader to cede power.

The vacuum created by the coup has allowed Tuareg rebels in the country's north to make rapid gains. They took the three main towns in the north, including Kidal on Friday, Gao on Saturday and Timbuktu on Sunday. Residents were cowering inside their homes as armed men pillaged shops and stole cars. Amnesty International said a pregnant woman in Gao was forced to give birth in the street because the hospital where she was to give birth was being looted.

The military junta in the capital alleged Tuesday that "grave abuses" had been committed by the rebels in the town of Gao, including the rapes and abductions of many girls.

Contacted by telephone, Ishakan ag Oye, the traditional leader of the Chateau district of Gao, said he held a meeting Wednesday to get to the bottom of the rape allegations.

"Since Sunday, people have been talking about this," he said. "But for the moment I do not have concrete proof. The people that said they heard this heard it from other people. I do not know the number of girls. I cannot talk without proof."

The Tuareg rebels who seized power of the north are a confused mixture of Tuareg separatists who want an independent homeland for the Tuareg people and an Islamist faction that wants to impose sharia law. Western governments are especially worried that the rebels may have been assisted by an al-Qaida faction, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

There have been conflicting reports about whether members of the al-Qaida franchise were involved.

"We don't know who is who, and who is controlling what — and who is in charge," said Timbuktu Mayor Ousmane Halle. He said he could not be sure if AQIM was present in the town.

He confirmed that the secular rebel group known as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad had taken over the airport of Timbuktu, setting up its headquarters there. The Islamist Ansar Dine group, he said, has based itself at a military camp in the middle of town.

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Associated Press writers Baba Ahmed and Martin Vogl in Bamako, Mali and Michelle Faul in Dakar, Senegal, contributed to this report.

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