BAMAKO — Religious leaders headed up a protest by more than a thousand people in Mali's capital Bamako on Thursday after the destruction of historic religious sites at Timbuktu.
The protesters massed at the international conference centre, summoned by the Group of Muslim Leaders of Mali, which unites several religious groups.
"All of us are joining hands to protest against the profanation of the mausoleums in Timbuktu. Those who carried out these acts are not even Muslims," Jules Sambou Cissoko, head of one Islamic association, told AFP.
The Ansar Dine (Defenders of Islam) sect, which has become powerful in the north of Mali in the past three months, between June 30 and July 2 destroyed seven of the 16 mausoleums of Muslim saints in fabled Timbuktu.
They also smashed in a sacred doorway on one of the three mosques in the ancient desert city, which is classed as an endangered heritage site by UNESCO. These acts have raised a storm of condemnation worldwide.
"No to imported Islam, yes to the Islam of our parents," read a banner on show in front of the Bamako conference centre, where the meeting was organised in the presence of the president of Mali's High Islamic Council, Mahmoud Dicko.
"Those who did this have no notion of Islam. Timbuktu was founded on a pure Islam, respectful of men, of all men," said Cheik Alpha Dahar Kounta, head of another Muslim association.
Mohamed Macki Ba, president of the Union of Young Muslims of Mali, ruled out mediation with the groups who have seized the north of the west African country since March.
These groups -- the hitherto unknown Ansar Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MUJAO) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- have driven Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA) out of Gao and Timbuktu, after the collapse of a shaky alliance.
A coup in Bamako on March 22 opened the way for the effective partition of the country, where the transitional authorities now in place lack the means to reclaim the north from the forces that seized control of all the main northern towns.
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