Top news: French President Francois Hollande was hailed as a liberator Saturday during a visit to Timbuktu, Mali, where he praised the military campaign to oust Islamist rebels while vowing that France would soon transfer responsibility for the mission to African forces.
Hollande has repeatedly stressed that the French military intervention in Mali would be short lived, but that commitment has in recent days run up against the reality on the ground, where Islamist rebels have ceded control of most of Mali's major cities but have likely taken refuge in the country's rugged mountains and caves. As a result, French airstrikes continued over the weekend as fighter jets bombed rebel training camps and arms and fuel depots. According to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the rebels "cannot stay there a long time unless they have ways to get new supplies."
Despite the continuing instability in the country, French forces said they would withdraw from Timbuktu on Thursday. That move would appear to signal a shift in the French strategy as it pivots from seeking control of Mali's major cities and tries to strike rebels who have taken refuge in remote parts of the country. Still, French forces do not control all of Mali's major cities. Though French forces control the airport at Kidal, but Tuareg rebels remain in control of the town.
In a press conference at the French ambassador's residence, Hollande acknowledged the difficulties still facing the mission. "There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered ... There are terrorist elements concentrated in some areas of the country, others who are dispersed. There are risks of terrorism. So, we have not yet finished our mission," he said.
Iran: Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran is open to direct talks with the United States and that his country welcomed the resumption of multilateral negotiations scheduled for Feb. 25. Western diplomats, however, downplayed the significance of the remarks, saying that Salehi carries little policy making influence in Tehran.
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- Cuban leader Fidel Castro was seen in public for the first time in several months when he voted in Cuban parliamentary elections.