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Militants kill five in attack on restaurant in Mali capital

Militants killed five people including a French citizen and a Belgian citizen in a gun attack on a restaurant in Mali's capital in the early hours of Saturday, authorities said.

Mali's desert north, where French forces wrested control of territory from separatist rebels and al Qaeda-linked militants, is hit by frequent political violence, but this is the first such attack for years in the capital Bamako in the south.

The shooting at La Terrasse restaurant, which is popular with expatriates, began at around 1 a.m. (2000 ET), a senior security official said.

"There were two individuals who were armed and hooded. One burst into the La Terrasse restaurant and opened fire on people. Then he got into a vehicle in which the other was waiting," senior police officer Falaye Kanté told Reuters.

"As they fled down a neighboring street, they shot a Belgian man who was in front of his house. He's dead. Not far away they came across a police vehicle and threw a grenade, killing the driver," he said.

Those killed included a girl who died in hospital, the police driver and a security guard, he said. Witnesses said police secured the street where the restaurant shooting took place because of unexploded grenades.

French forces took control of northern Mali two years ago but insurgents continue to mount attacks. France has more than 3,000 soldiers in West Africa as part of a counter-insurgency force against al Qaeda-linked militants.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed a French citizen was among those killed in the Bamako attack. He condemned it and said it strengthened France's resolve to "fight terrorism in all its forms".

The French embassy in Mali said on Saturday it had alerted its citizens and beefed up security.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders also condemned the violence and said it may have been a terrorist attack. He was speaking to reporters during a conference of foreign ministers in Riga.

Mali's government signed a preliminary peace proposal on Sunday meant to end fighting with northern separatists, but the Tuareg-led rebels demanded more time before agreeing to any accord.

[Source: By Adama Diarra, Reuters, Bamako, 07Mar15]

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