French troops battle with Mali rebels

Updated 07 February 2013
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French troops battle with Mali rebels

GAO, Mali/PARIS: French troops clashed with militants firing rocket launchers outside the north Malian city of Gao, France’s defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said yesterday. The minister also said there have been “several hundred” rebel fighters killed and “large” destruction of weapons, giving the first indication of the scope of the combat in an interview Tuesday on France’s BFM TV.
“It’s a real war ... when we go outside of the center of cities that have been taken, we meet residual rebels,” he said yesterday on Europe-1 radio.
Gao has been held by French-led forces since late January, and Tuesday’s clashes highlight complications for the intervention.
Le Drian said French aircraft are continuing airstrikes every night on suspected militant arms depots and mine-making sites. On the ground, troops have found war materiel, weapons manuals and makeshift laboratories for making improvised explosive devices like roadside bombs. “We discover preparations for a true terrorist sanctuary,” he said.
France launched a swift military intervention on Jan. 11 against extremists who had taken over northern Mali, and started pushing toward the capital. A UN-authorized African force is starting to take over from French forces in cities seized at the outset of the intervention.
A secular rebel movement fighting for a nation for Mali’s minority Tuareg nomads claims it is holding several smaller northern towns, including the strategically located city of Kidal, on the road to Algeria. French and Chadian troops entered the city Tuesday.
Moussa Ag Assarid of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad said their fighters also are holding the northeastern towns of Tessalit, Menaka, Aguelhok and Tinzawatten, as well as Kidal. Azawad is what the Tuaregs call their would-be country It was not immediately possible to verify the claims.
Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande confirmed yesterday that a drawdown of French forces in Mali will begin in March as long as the military operation there continues to go well, a government spokeswoman said.
“As far as Mali is concerned, the president confirmed this morning that if everything goes to plan, the number of French troops in Mali will begin to fall from the month of March,” she said in a briefing to reporters following a cabinet meeting.
Defense Minister Le Drian had earlier said that the French force in Mali had reached a total of 4,000 men and would not be increased any further. French troops were Tuesday engaged in fighting with the remnants of armed groups that have been routed from most of the northern Mali towns they had controlled since last year.
Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said that at a Cabinet meeting yesterday, President Hollande “confirmed that if all goes as planned, by the end of March the number of French troops engaged in Mali can begin to diminish.”


Almost $30 million seized in raids linked to Malaysian ex-PM

Updated 12 min 20 sec ago
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Almost $30 million seized in raids linked to Malaysian ex-PM

  • The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewelry from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur
  • Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian police said Friday they found cash amounting to almost $30 million in a raid on a luxury apartment as they probed corruption allegations swirling around ousted leader Najib Razak.
The money was seized along with 284 boxes containing designer handbags, as well as watches and jewelry from a condominium in Kuala Lumpur, which was raided along with Najib’s home and other sites last week.
Najib’s coalition was thrown out of power for the first time in over six decades in the May 9 poll, defeated by a reformist alliance headed by his former mentor Mahathir Mohamad.
Public disgust at allegations of corruption swirling around Najib was a major factor for the loss, with the ex-leader, his family and cronies accused of looting billions of dollars from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.
There has been much speculation about what the seized goods consisted of and their value after five trucks were reportedly brought in to help move the vast stash.
Giving an update, the police’s head of commercial crime Amar Singh said: “From the money found, there were 26 currencies, the total amount as of yesterday is 114 million ($28.6 million).”
The money was found in 35 bags while another 37 bags contained watches and jewelry, he told a press conference. The value of other items will be calculated later, he said.
The seizure of the luxury goods added to public scorn of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, long reviled by Malaysians for her perceived haughty demeanour and reported vast collection of designer bags, clothing and jewelry.
Her love of overseas shopping trips, as middle class Malaysians struggle with rising living costs, added to a sense of spreading, deeply-entrenched rot in the country’s long-ruling elite.
The couple’s fall from grace has been swift and hard.
They have been barred from leaving the country and the ex-premier has been questioned by anti-graft investigators over claims 1MDB money ended up in his bank accounts, and looks likely to be charged.
Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.