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Malian town of Gao celebrates exit of Islamist extremists as French, Malian forces push north

  • 66e98a02453acd03270f6a706700a793.jpg

    A Malian family's taxi is searched at a checkpoint on the Gao road outside Sevare, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Mali's capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali, officials said. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (The Associated Press)

  • 970a420f4535cd03270f6a706700386f.jpg

    Malian soldiers man a checkpoint on the Gao road outside Sevare, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Mali's capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. French and Malian troops held a strategic bridge and the airport in the northern town of Gao on Sunday as their force also pressed toward Timbuktu, another stronghold of Islamic extremists in northern Mali, officials said. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay) (The Associated Press)

Residents of the northern Malian city of Gao are celebrating the arrival of French and Malian forces.

The French-led mission entered Gao over the weekend and took control of the airport and a major bridge and patrolled the town.

Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, had been under the grip of radical Islamists for nearly 10 months.

Gao resident Hassane Maiga, reached on the phone, said jubilant residents joyously greeted the French and Malian troops.

Meanwhile, French and Malian forces are also advancing on the fabled desert town of Timbuktu.

The Islamists seized control of the north after a military coup last March created chaos. So far the French have met little resistance though it remains to be seen whether the Malians can maintain control of the towns.