French Prez visits Timbuktu after troops liberate city

French President Francois Hollande landed Saturday in the fabled Malian town of Timbuktu, making a triumphant stop six days after French forces parachuted in to liberate the desert city from the rule of al Qaeda-linked militants.

The French launched their military operation to oust the extremists three weeks ago, and have since taken back the three main northern cities ruled by the rebels for about 10 months.

Hollande suggested Friday during his visit to the former French colony, he would discuss reduction of French troop levels on the ground to make way for an African force, led by Mali. He said his visit aims to encourage the Africans to "come join us as quickly as possible and say we need international force".

Hollande, accompanied by France's foreign and defence ministers on Saturday, first headed to the Djingareyber mosque in Timbuktu. Turbaned dignitaries were waiting to greet him at the mosque. Crowds shouted "Vive la France! Vive Francois Hollande!" as he passed them.

"If I could have one wish, it would be that the French army stays in the Sahara, that they create a base here," said Moustapha Ben Essayati. "I'm really scared that if they leave, the jihadists will come back," he said "If France had not intervened in Konna, we would no longer be talking about Mali."

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