BAMAKO Jan 13 Hundreds of Malians lined up on Sunday to donate blood destined for their troops locked in a fierce battle against Islamist rebels occupying the northern two-thirds of the poor West African country.
Faced with a long and bitter war to dislodge the al Qaeda-linked rebel fighters, interim President Dioncounda Traore had appealed on Friday for everyone, including mining and telecoms firms, to contribute whatever they could.
With little else to offer, many Malians in the dusty capital Bamako waited quietly to give their blood.
"Mali is under attack, and we are obliged to defend ourselves," said 32-year-old civil servant Ibrahima Kalossi. "Since I don't have any kind of military training, the only thing I can do is contribute financially or donate my blood."
Kalossi was one of more than 40 civilians and reservists who queued early on Sunday at one of several blood donation centres in downtown Bamako.
Many in the moderate Muslim nation feel strongly about wresting the north from the Islamist alliance, which has imposed extreme sharia Islamic law including cases of amputation of hands for theft and stoning to death for adultery.
"This is all I can give to help save the men at the front," said 23-year-old Benidian Sidibe, wearing a headscarf.
Commandant Arouna Dougnon, 52, in charge of the centre, said over 1,000 Malians had donated blood across the capital since they began collection on Saturday.
"We collected 180 packets of blood from this centre alone yesterday. It will continue every day until the country is liberated," he said.
Dougnon said he hoped to get all of Mali's 6,638 reservist to donate blood regularly.
Backed by French aerial firepower, Malian troops took back the strategic town of Konna in the centre of the country on Saturday after Islamist rebels seized the city in a southern offensive.
Malian authorities said 11 soldiers were killed during the battle in Konna, while about 60 others were wounded. French fighter jets struck Islamist training camps and logistics depots in their northern stronghold of Gao on Sunday.
A youth organisation called Demisenw Joyoro has said it would lend its support to raise 100 million CFA francs ($203,500) and collect 100,000 packets of blood for the troops over the next four months.
An official of the country's influential High Islamic Council, Mohamed Kimbiri, said the organisation had raised 20 million CFA francs that would be handed to President Traore on Sunday.