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Mali's Media Strike Over Journalist Attacks

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MALI
AP


* Journalists strike over spate of violent attacks

* Islamists hold north, south still lacks viable govt

* Military intervention mulled but mot seen imminent

BAMAKO, July 17 (Reuters) - Mali's private press, radio and television carried out a one-day strike on Tuesday to protest at attacks on journalists critical of soldiers behind a coup in March and who still hold sway in the capital of the West African state.

The March coup emboldened Tuareg-led rebels to seize control of the northern two-thirds of Mali. However they have since been sidelined by heavily armed al Qaeda-linked Islamists who - to the alarm of global security experts - now control the zone.

An attempted return to civilian rule in the southern part of the country around the capital Bamako has failed to produce a viable government, leaving a climate of lawlessness even there.

"For the past two or three months, press freedom has been seriously jeopardised in this country. Journalists are being attacked, abducted, beaten up," Makan Kone, president of the local press association said during a march by around 1,000 journalists through Bamako.

Masked gunmen in military uniform this month abducted Saouti Haïdara, editor of privately owned daily L'Independant, gave him a severe beating and dumped him in a northern district of Bamako, where he was found by colleagues.

Other victims include Abdramane Keita of L'Aurore daily who was badly beaten up two weeks ago, and others who say they have suffered intimidation by secret service agents.

Nobody has been charged with the attacks. The publications had been critical of the group of soldiers around coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, in some cases accusing them of carrying out abuses during and after the coup.

Mali's neighbours fear the country is turning into a failed state whose north could become a launchpad for jihadist attacks.

Its caretaker president, Dioncounda Traore, has remained in France since he was attacked by protesters who broke into his palace as soldiers looked on.

Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, a former astrophysicist and political novice, has struggled to stamp his authority and the West African ECOWAS bloc have requested that he take steps to form a national unity government.

ECOWAS and the African Union are preparing options for military intervention to stabilise the country but diplomats say a deployment is not imminent. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Alison Williams)

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