Government extends state of emergency by 8 months

The state of emergency, which gives security services greater powers and restricts public gatherings, will last until March 29, 2017, public broadcaster ORTM said.

Coffins of Malian army officers killed in an attack are displayed on July 21, 2016 in Segou during a funeral ceremony

MPs unanimously backed the extension -- which has been renewed several times since last year -- during an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, a parliamentary source said.

"I want to reassure that the state of emergency contributes to the stability of the country" and preserves security, interior minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga told lawmakers.

Hundreds of government supporters marched through central Bamako on Saturday afternoon to support Mali's security forces and the peace process, according to an AFP photographer.

Demonstrators waved Malian flags, placards and banners reading: "No development without peace," and "I love my country, I'm taking part."

The vote came as renewed violence broke out near Kidal in the northeast, where local sources said former Tuareg rebels were battling members of a pro-government armed group for control of the city.

Deadly clashes broke out between the two groups last week, the first time they have broken a ceasefire since last September.

Mali declared a state of emergency in November after jihadists stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, killing 20 people, mostly foreigners, in an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda's regional branch.

The government imposed another for 10 days on July 21, after attackers stormed an army base in central Nampala, leaving 17 soldiers dead and 35 wounded.

Two groups -- the Islamist organisation Ansar Dine and a newly formed ethnic group -- claimed to have carried out the raid, which the government described as a "coordinated terrorist attack".

Security sources told AFP they doubted whether the National Alliance for the Protection of Peul Identity and Restoration of Justice (ANSIPRJ) had the means to mount such an attack.

Special forces this week said they had caught a senior figure from Ansar Dine's central combat unit, who they believe helped to coordinate the deadly assault.

Saturday's attack was the latest in a series of assaults on security forces in Mali.

A previous state of emergency, put in place since April, had only been lifted the week before.

Ansar Dine is a mainly Tuareg group that controlled areas of Mali's northern desert together with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and a third local group in early 2012.

Although the Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, sporadic assaults from desert hideouts are common.

Attacks have notably become more frequent in the country's centre, close to its borders with Burkina Faso and Niger, both from criminal and jihadist elements.

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