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Mali opposition leader goes missing with 11 others: party

BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali’s main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse is missing and thought to be kidnapped along with 11 members of his delegation, his party said on Thursday, during election campaigning in a region where jihadists frequently strike.

The Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) said none of the group had been reachable since late afternoon on Wednesday when they were expected to reach the village of Koumaira in the northern region of Timbuktu.

Militants with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State launch frequent attacks on civilian and military targets in the area.

The URD referred to the group’s disappearance as a kidnapping, but did not give any more details.

“Still no news of him or his delegation,” URD Vice President Madani Traore told Reuters, as the party set up a crisis committee and urged the government, military and U.N. peacekeepers to help find the missing group.

The incident came before long-delayed legislative elections, which authorities say will take place on Sunday despite the coronavirus epidemic. Mali was one of the last countries in West Africa to confirm a case, reporting its first two on Wednesday.

The parliamentary vote was originally scheduled for 2018 but has been pushed back several times because of insecurity.

Cisse is Mali’s leading opposition figure. He lost 2013 and 2018 elections to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

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