DHAKA: Some 2,000 people have joined a sit-in protest at Bamako`s Independence Square monument, calling for army intervention in the north where Islamists have enforced strict sharia law, destroyed ancient shrines and trapped residents with landmines.
"If the army doesn`t want to go to war, then give us the means to liberate our territory!" Oumar Maiga, leader of a northern citizens` collective, who took part in Wednesday`s protest said.
Islamist groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO, believed to have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, took control of the ancient towns of Gao and Timbuktu last week after violent clashes with the MNLA, a former ally that in April helped them oust the Malian government from the north.
They have applied sharia law to the region, and since last weekend destroyed seven sacred sites in the ancient town of Timbuktu, including a sacrosanct door leading to an internal shrine in the 15th century Sidi Yahia mosque.
In the key northern city of Gao, Ansar Dine`s al-Qaeda allies have planted landmines around the city to prevent a counter-offensive by the Tuareg fighters they violently expelled last week.
The protest came as the international community mulled ways to help Mali`s embattled interim government save its vast desert north, a territory larger than France or Texas, from the armed Islamists.
Mali is being ruled by a 12-month interim government set up after a March 22 coup and which has proved powerless to deal with the partition of the country since the Islamists and Tuareg rebels captured key northern cities.
BDST: 1110 HRS, July 5, 2012