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Sahel Blog: Tuareg rebellion in Mali's north sparks protests in South

Guest blogger Alex Thurston says the anger follows setbacks for Mali's Army at hand of well-armed Tuareg rebels. Could we see citizen backlash against ethnic Tuaregs?

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Mali’s President Amadou Toumani Toure, who has only a few months left in office, has attempted to reassure his nervous nation and to defuse ethnic tensions. For the first time since the Tuareg rebellion resumed, he addressed the nation on Wednesday, “pledg[ing] not to give in to separatist demands but, in a sign of concerns that the conflict could spread, call[ing] on Malians to refrain from attacks on any particular community.” (Read the full text of Toure’s speech here, in French).

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The administration is doing a lot of talking behind closed doors as well. Government representatives are meeting Tuareg representatives in Algeria; all signs indicate that thegovernment wants a diplomatic solution and believes one is still possible. Toure is also moving to assuage the protesters’ anger; yesterday morning he met with military wives.

So long as the situation remains bad in the north, though, the possibility of protests and pogroms will remain in the south. This is a bad moment for Mali, and indeed for the region. As Fatoumata Lejeune of the UNHCR wrote on Twitter yesterday, “Touareg uprising in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Wade reelection bid in Senegal. Too much trouble in West Africa these days!”

For updates on the situation in southern Mali, I recommend following Martin Vogl, a journalist based in Bamako who frequently writes for major news outfits.

RELATED: What is Nigeria's Boko Haram: 5 things to know

- Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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