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Introduction
Sources:
Africa 2006,

The advent of the camel as a means of transport across the desert some 1,800 years ago stimulated trade between Mediterranean Africa and ancient Mali, a creation of a Mandé group, the Malinké. The Malinké empire ruled regions of Mali from the 12th to the 16th Cen tury while the Songhai empire reigned over the Timbuktu-Gao region in the 15th Century. Originally explorers braved the arduous route inland in search of the legendary golden riches of Timbuktu, only to discover that the tales were heavily inflated. Morocco conquered Timbuktu in 1591 and controlled it for two centuries. In the late 19th Century the French set out from their colony in Senegal to establish a colonial empire that would stretch to the Red Sea. With their claims validated at the 1885 Berlin Conference, the French applied a combination of diplomacy and military force to overpower several Sahelian states, including Mali. As French Soudan it was first incorporated into French West Africa and afterwards given joint independence with Senegal in the Federation of Mali. Shortly after independence in 1960, the federation split up and French Soudan became Mali. The first Malian president, Modibo Keita, opted for a one-party state, severed ties with France, introduced socialist policies and sought assistance from the Soviet Union. In 1968 the Keita dictatorship was overthrown by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré who retained one-man rule while adopting some free-market policies. Violent repression of pro-democracy forces prompted Lt.- Col. Amadou Toumani Touré to depose Traoré and facilitate the country's first free elections in 1992. Alpha Konaré won the presidential election and was reelected in 1997 for a second term. In May 2002 Amadou Touré returned to power by gaining 64.4% of the popular vote in a race against Soumaila Cissé.  


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