TIMBUKTU: Dancing to the beat of drums forbidden by their Islamist occupiers, Timbuktu residents gave President Francois Hollande a reverent welcome yesterday but said they fear the extremists will return once French troops leave.
Thousands crowded into the fabled caravan city’s sandy Sankore Square, greeting Hollande with banners bearing titles such as ‘The Saviour’ and ‘The Angel Who Stopped Disaster’.
Hollande’s whirlwind visit came after French-led forces reclaimed Timbuktu on Monday from Al Qaeda-linked rebels who seized it amid the chaos unleashed by a military coup in March last year.
The Islamists ruled the north with a brutal interpretation of Islamic law, punishing transgressors with public whippings, amputations or executions and forcing women to wear veils and banned music and cigarettes.
Timbuktu, which rose to fame in the 14th century as a gold and salt trading hub, has a rich history as a centre of Islamic learning in Africa, but the Islamists set about destroying heritage they considered sacrilegious, including mausoleums of Muslim saints and some of the ancient manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba library.