French President Francois Hollande declared Thursday that the war on terror had been won in the West African nation of Mali, listing the towns that French and Malian troops had liberated from al-Qaida’s local fighters earlier this year.
Hollande spoke before more than a dozen heads of state at inauguration festivities for Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won the election that the French urged Mali to hold only months after radical jihadists had been largely ousted from power in northern Mali.
“We have won this war; we have chased out the terrorists; we have secured the north and finally … we have, you have organized an uncontested election and the winner is now the president of Mali,” Hollande told the crowd gathered at a sports stadium in the Malian capital.
Keita formally took the oath of office two weeks ago as was required by the country’s constitution. On Thursday, Malians in their finest suits and traditional gowns poured into a sports stadium for the festivities, fanning themselves with programs in the heat and shading themselves with umbrellas.
Keita entered the stadium standing in the back of a military jeep draped in Malian flags, wearing a yellow sash accented in the other colors of the national flag – red and green. Throngs of soldiers ran alongside his vehicle, holding hands to form a barricade against well-wishers approaching him.
Hollande, whose country led the international military intervention to oust the radical jihadists from northern Mali, was the first world leader to congratulate Keita at the ceremony, where schoolchildren sang the national anthem.
“It’s a huge victory for Mali that we celebrate today, a victory that started when Konna was liberated, when Diabaly was liberated, when Gao was liberated, when Timbuktu was liberated and when finally Kidal was liberated,” Hollande said to thunderous applause.