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Mali Opposition Leader And Ex-Hostage Dies of COVID-19

(FILE) In this file photo of August 18, 2018 Malian Opposition leader Soumaila Cisse (C) waves to his supporters during a rally to protest the results of presidential runoff vote in Bamako. He died on December 25, 2020 of COVID-19 in France.

Mali's opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, who was held hostage for six months earlier this year by jihadists and was considered a leading contender in 2022 elections, has died in Paris, his family said Friday.

Cissé, 71, died after contracting COVID-19, his eldest son Bocar told The Associated Press.
"The doctors did everything to keep him alive, but that's the way of God's will," he said.

The news throws Malian politics into new uncertainty. Cissé was the runner-up in the past three presidential elections and many thought he had the best chances of finally winning in 2022.

He was taken hostage by jihadists in March while campaigning for legislative elections in his hometown of Niafunke in northern Mali. He was abducted by a group affiliated with al-Qaida.

Amid public pressure, the Malian government obtained his liberation in October, along with that of French and Italian hostages, in exchange for the release of some 200 jihadists from Malian prisons.

Mali's interim leader Sem Ba N'Daw expressed his condolences to Cisse's family and supporters on Friday, saying millions of Malians "are in shock" at the news. Describing a meeting with Cisse after he was freed, he said Cisse's "optimism had remained intact," and said "the country still needed his experience and wisdom to face today's challenges."

No immediate funeral plans were announced.