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President denounces killings in Mali

NOUAKCHOTT — Mauritania’s president said Wednesday the killing of nine Mauritanians by soldiers in neighboring Mali last week was an “odious crime” but stressed it had caused no diplomatic rift.

“This odious crime was committed because of the difficult political and security circumstances our brotherly neighbor is experiencing,” President Ould Abdel Aziz said, referring to the Islamist takeover of Mali’s north.

“Unfortunately, this crime would not have happened were it not for the deterioration of the security situation in the country,” he told reporters. “We do not want to further complicate the situation.”

He was speaking at Nouakchott airport as the bodies of the nine Mauritanians killed in central Mali on Saturday were being flown back.

The nine were among 16 shot by soldiers, who apparently mistook them for Islamist militants who are occupying the north of the country. The exact circumstances of the incident are still being investigated.

Mauritania said the dead were unarmed preachers.

Al Qaeda-linked Islamists took advantage of the chaos that followed a coup in Bamako to seize northern Mali, a vast desert region larger than France or Texas, together with secular Tuareg rebels.

The Islamists then chased out their onetime allies, and have imposed strict Sharia law, including public floggings for sex out of wedlock and amputations for theft.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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