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Hollande lauds Mali progress

France will step up anti-terrorist security measures on its own territory in light of its intervention into Mali. A helicopter pilot has become the first pronounced French military casualty of the day-old intervention.

On Saturday, French President Francois Hollande said that the domestic alert level would be increased following the start of the intervention in Mali. Hollande said he asked Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to increase protection of public buildings and public transport. He also pledged that France would see the battle through to its resolution.

"We have forced a halt and inflicted heavy losses on our adversaries," Hollande said. "But our mission is not over yet."

A French helicopter pilot died during fighting against Islamist rebels in Mali, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday. He confirmed that the pilot had died on Friday, but he did not comment on whether rebels had shot down the helicopter.

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Mali's international war

The defense minister also said that the military had continued airstrikes in the West African country on Saturday morning, and that it had deployed several hundred French troops for the operation. Airstrikes, which began on Friday, have helped Mali's government forces to push back Islamist rebels from the central town of Konna.

The Economic Community of West African States is also to deploy soldiers to Mali by Monday in order to help push rebel fighters northward. In a statement released on Saturday, the commission president of the bloc, Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, said the decision had been taken "in light of the urgency of the situation."

Up to 100 people have been killed in airstrikes and fighting since the French intervention began.

mkg/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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