Mali: Tuareg rebellion sparks angry protests in Bamako

Photo taken on 23 May 2006 of Malian soldiers taking position in the northeastern Malian town of Kidal after Tuareg rebels briefly seized two Malian army bases. Archive photo Mali's Tuaregs launched another rebellion in January

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Protesters surrounded the residence of Mali's president in angry protests over the government's handling of attacks by Tuareg rebels in the country's north.

Tyres have been set on fire and roads have been blocked in the capital Bamako on a fourth day of demonstrations.

Soldiers' families also took to the streets in a nearby town, complaining that the army was not equipped properly.

The rebels want an autonomous Azawad region in the northern desert.

Fresh fighting broke out in the middle of January - led by Tuareg rebels recently returned from Libya, where they served as Col Gaddafi's security forces.

The BBC's Martin Vogl in Bamako says the capital is tense and shops and businesses closed early for the day.

Our correspondent says the return to fighting - after two years of relative peace between the government and the Tuareg - has re-ignited old ethnic tensions between southerners and northerners.

Homes vandalised

He says southerners are angry that some of their family members have been killed - accusing the government of failing to properly arm those fighting on the front line.

The businesses and homes of Tuareg families have been vandalised in the towns of Kati, close to Bamako, and Segou, some 240km away - prompting President Amadou Toumani Toure to go on national TV.

He urged southern Malians not to discriminate against northerners despite the recent Tuareg rebel attacks.

"Those who attacked some military barracks and towns in the north must not be confused with our fellow Tuaregs, Arabs, Songhoi, Fulani, who live with us," President Toure said.

"They have the same rights and aspirations as us to live in peace," he added.

It was his first major speech since the fighting in the north resumed two weeks ago.

The Tuareg are a nomadic community who mostly live in northern Mali, northern Niger and southern Algeria.

Mali's Tuaregs have long complained that they have been marginalised by the southern government and have staged several rebellions over the years.

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