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Freedom returns to the storied city of Timbuktu

January 31, 2013 • National News


Women dance openly in front of a photographer as they walk along a street in Timbuktu, Mali, Thursday Jan. 31, 2013. Many things have changed in Timbuktu since the Islamic militants ceased to enforce their law and relinquished power to French special forces who parachuted in several days ago, liberating this storied city, and now there is a growing sense of freedom. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)

TIMBUKTU, Mali (AP) — On the morning French commandos parachuted onto the sand just north of this storied city and ended 10 months of Islamic rule, Hawi Traore folded up her veil. On the next day, she wore heels. On the day after, she put on her sparkly earrings, got her hair braided and tried her mother’s perfume.

Finally on Thursday, the 12-year-old girl dared to dance in the streets, celebrating freedom from the draconian rules that were imposed by the al-Qaida-linked militants on this desert capital for much of the past year.

Four days since French special forces liberated Timbuktu, there is a growing sense of freedom — particularly among women. The speed with which women have claimed back their freedom underscores one of the advantages the French hold against an elusive enemy on unforgiving terrain: The population here has long practiced a moderate Islam rather than the extremism of the militants.

Although Timbuktu has long been a code word for the ends of the earth, until recently its women led a relatively modern existence, where they were not required to be covered and could socialize with men. That changed abruptly last year, when radical Islamists seized control of the northern half of Mali in the chaos after a coup in the distant capital.

When they first arrived, Hawi, a tall, fast-talking, sassy preteen girl, was just learning how to put on makeup. She learned the hard way to wear the toungou, the word for veil in the Songhai language. Her slender arm still bears the scar left by the whip of the Islamic police, her punishment for not properly Login to read more

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