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Amnesty Warns of Major Humanitarian Disaster in North Mali

Amnesty International warned Thursday that north Mali was on the brink of a "major humanitarian disaster" and said aid agencies must be allowed immediate access to avoid further civilian deaths.

The London-based rights organization said the three northern towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu have "experienced days of looting, abductions and chaos" since being overrun by Tuareg and Islamist rebels last week.

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Islamists Seize Algerian Consulate in North Mali

Armed Islamists occupied the Algerian consulate in Gao in north-eastern Mali, arresting diplomats and raising their black flag at the building, several witnesses told Agence France Presse on Thursday.

"I am currently in front of the Algerian consulate in district four in Gao. Armed Islamists have entered the consulate, arrested the diplomats and staff and taken down the Algerian flag to put up their own," one witness told AFP in Bamako by telephone.

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U.S. Calls on Mali Rebels to End Fight

The United States called Tuesday on rebel forces in northern Mali to lay down their arms and for coup leaders to step aside, warning the country's territorial integrity was at stake.

As Islamist-allied Tuareg rebels rapidly advance though the African nation, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was "deeply concerned" and looking at new ways to pressure the coup leaders.

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Foreign Ministry: France Advises Nationals to Leave Mali

France has advised its nationals "whose presence is not essential" to leave Mali as Tuareg rebels sweep across the north of the country in the wake of a military coup, the Agence France Presse said Monday.

"It is recommended not to travel to Mali until further notice," said a statement on the French foreign ministry's travel advice website after the rebels last week seized several towns in the north, including Timbuktu.

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Rebels Enter Timbuktu as Mali Junta 'Restores' Constitution

Tuareg rebels claimed control of the legendary desert town of Timbuktu on Sunday, part of a dramatic push across northern Mali, as the disorganized junta indicated it was ready to cede power.

Tuareg rebels assisted by Islamist fighters have swept across much of northern Mali since renegade soldiers staged a coup on March 22, saying they were fed up with the government's handling of a Tuareg fight for an independent homeland.

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Mali Junta Says it Supports Return to Constitutional Order

Representatives from the junta that seized power in Mali said Saturday that the putschists agree with West African leaders on the need to swiftly restore constitutional order.

"On the main principles that they asked of us, we say that we agree. There should be a regular and normal constitutional life, and now we are going to discuss the way to establish this," said junta chief of staff Colonel Moussa Sinko Coulibaly after meeting Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore.

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Mali's Junta Seeks Help as Tuareg Rebels Make Gains

Mali's embattled coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo has called for outside help as advancing Tuareg and Islamist fighters seized ground, including a key northern town, from overwhelmed soldiers.

The Mali army said early Saturday it had pulled its troops out of two towns in the country's northeast, hours after Tuareg separatist rebels forced them out of the strategic town of Kidal.

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Mali Leader Confirms He is Safe as World Seeks End to Coup

Mali's ousted leader Amadou Toumani Toure, whose whereabouts have been unknown since he was overthrown on March 22, on Wednesday told Agence France Presse he was safe in Bamako and not being held by the junta.

The president was chased out of power just five weeks before the end of his time in office ahead of elections on April 29 which have now been suspended by the junta and no fresh poll date fixed.

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U.N. Rights Chief Urges Mali, G.Bissau to Emulate Senegal

U.N. human rights Chief Navi Pillay on Wednesday urged Mali and Guinea Bissau to follow Senegal's lead in holding "free, fair and transparent" elections.

Congratulating Senegal for its peaceful March 25 presidential run-off, Pillay noted: "Mali also had a good record of democratic elections over the past two decades, and I hope it gets back on that track as soon as possible."

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Malians Go Back to Work as Regional Leaders Weigh Coup

Businesses reopened and children returned to school Tuesday as Malians heeded a call by the junta to return to work, but the putschists faced further pressure as west African leaders held emergency talks.

The military rulers were trying to restore order as they fought off opprobrium at home and abroad for their ouster of President Amadou Toumani Toure on March 22 in anger over the regime's handling of a northern Tuareg rebellion.

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