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Mali PM Ready for Talks with Rebels, but Not Under Duress

Mali's new interim Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra said Friday he was ready for talks with armed groups who have seized control of the country's north -- but not under duress.

In his first speech to the nation Diarra addressed "residents of the north who are suffering from an aggression as barbaric as it is incomprehensible" as a result of their towns being held by Tuareg rebels and hardline Islamists.

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Tuareg Rebel Calls Meeting with Malian Officials 'Positive'

A leader of the Tuareg rebel group that has declared an independent state in northern Mali said Monday that a first official meeting between the rebels and Malian authorities had gone well.

"We've had official contact with the Malian delegation that we can describe as positive," Hamma Ag Mahmoud, a member of the political branch of the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), told Agence France Presse after the meeting late Sunday in Mauritanian capital Nouakchott.

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Switzerland: Swiss Woman Kidnapped in Mali's Timbuktu

Switzerland on Monday confirmed that a female national had been kidnapped in Mali's Timbuktu, the fabled city seized by Islamists following after a coup in the west African nation.

A statement by the federal department of foreign affairs (FDFA) in Bern said that authorities were in contact with the woman's family and "were making every effort to ensure the kidnap victim is released unharmed," but did not identify her.

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Mali President Resigns, Interim Leader Prepares for Transition

Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in a military coup 17 days ago, formally resigned Sunday in a move paving the way for the departure of the junta that ousted him.

Under the terms of a transition deal with the West African bloc ECOWAS, the junta's leaders said they would allow a return to democracy once Toure formally quit.

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Mali Islamist Rebel Group Says against Tuareg Independence

The Islamist group Ansar Dine says that despite battling alongside the main Tuareg rebels in northern Mali, it is against their declaration of independence and is simply fighting for Islam.

"Our war is a holy war. It's a legal war in the name of Islam. We are against rebellions. We are against independence. We are against revolutions not in the name of Islam," its military chief Omar Hamaha said, in a video obtained by Agence France Presse.

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Report: Algeria Rules Out Mali Split, Foreign Intervention

Algeria is opposed to Mali's break-up and wants dialogue to resolve the crisis with its southern neighbor, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia was quoting as saying Friday, warning against foreign intervention.

Algeria "will never accept questioning Mali's territorial integrity," Ouyahia told France's Le Monde newspaper on Thursday, before a Tuareg rebel group had declared the independence of their desert homeland they call Azawad.

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Tuareg Rebels Proclaim Independence of North Mali

Tuareg rebels of north Mali's National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) on Friday proclaimed the "independence of Azawad" in a statement on their website and through a spokesman on France 24 television.

"We solemnly proclaim the independence of Azawad as from today," said Mossa Ag Attaher, who added that the rebels would respect "the borders with other states."

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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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