BAMAKO, Mali - Agence France-Presse
The peace meeting is considered a sign of hope for war-torn Mali.
Up to 60,000 people gathered on Aug. 12 for a giant peace rally in Mali, a country split in two after Islamists wrested control of northern desert regions after a March coup in the capital Bamako.
The meeting for “national peace and reconciliation” in Bamako’s main stadium was called by the country’s top Muslim body and drew several key politicians including Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra.
“Our country needs peace and national healing,” said Madani Ousmane Haidara, a prominent imam, at the rally. It’s up to Malians to find a solution and I ask all Malians to forgive each other,” Haidara said.
“Let us pray for Mali, let us pray for peace,” urged Mahmoud Dicko, the head of Mali’s High Islamic Council. Dicko recently met with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of two Islamist groups, along with Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith), occupying the north of the country.
The groups, which security experts say are acting under the aegis of Al-Qaeda
in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), seized key northern cities in the chaos following a coup d’etat in Bamako on March 22 that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure. The groups have since imposed strict Islamic law on the population in northern Mali, prompting outrage as they stoned an unmarried couple to death last month and cut off the hand of a thief on Aug. 8.
The takeover was spearheaded by Tuareg rebels seeking an independent state for their nomadic desert tribe, but the extremists have pushed them aside and seeks an Islamic state in the zone.