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Mali is asking for military help from France in the face of fierce attacks by Islamist rebels.

The Malian army has just been driven out of the strategic northern town of Konna.

That follows the fiercest fighting since the al- Qaeda-linked militants took control of the country’s north nine months ago.

At emergency consultations of the United Nations Security Council members expressed “grave concern” and France’s ambassador Gerard Araud said: “We call on all member states to provide assistance in resolving the Malian crisis in all its aspects including military and political and I emphasise to provide support to the authorities in this country to put an end to the terrorist threat.

He said France wants the rapid deployment of an African military force in Mali, but that is likely to be months away. Meanwhile, the French Defence Ministry would not comment on reports it already has troops there.

French President Francois Hollande was due to make a statement on Mali’s request for military assistance from Paris during a New Year speech to diplomats around mid-morning on Friday, a diplomatic source said.

The fall of Konna, 600 kilometres northeast of the capital Bamako consolidates rebel control of Mali’s north.

A ceasefire deal agreed at talks in early December has been ignored.

The latest fighting threatens new peace talks that have already had to be postponed until January 21.

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