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Most people in the industrialised world have heard of Timbuktu, even if they could not find this ancient centre of civilisation on the map. In fact, it is in Mali, a West African country which is rapidly coming to terms with the modern world. In 1991 the people of Mali overthrew a military dictatorship; democratic elections were held; a free press is flourishing; the nation is struggling with the effects of an economic structural adjustment programme and inter-ethnic tensions which brought it to the brink of catastrophe.

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