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They are rolling out the red carpet for the French president in Mali.

Francois Hollande is heading for the west African country where 3,500 French troops are spearheading an offensive to drive out Islamist rebels linked to al-Qaeda.

The Malian government had appealed for urgent assistance against a rebel push south towards the capital.

Ibrahim Traore, a street vendor in Bamako, said: “I am very, very happy. He got us out of a very tricky situation. You cannot imagine how grateful to Francois Hollande we are.”

Two human rights groups have accused Malian government troops of summary executions in the north of the country, and similar atrocities by armed Islamist groups.

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