A gun battle between Malian soldiers and suspected Islamist rebels erupted Sunday in the streets of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, which has been rocked by suicide bombings each of the past two days.
The two groups were trading gunfire early in the afternoon in the centre of the city, near the central police station, an AFP correspondent said.
French-led forces reclaimed Gao on January 26 from Al-Qaeda-linked rebels who had seized control of northern Mali for 10 months in the wake of a military coup.
The street battle comes after a suicide bomber blew himself up late Saturday at an army checkpoint at the entrance to the city, following a similar attack on the same spot the day before.
The two suicide blasts were the first such attacks in Mali.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of the Islamist groups that had occupied the north before being pushed out by the French intervention launched on January 11, claimed the first attack, and had threatened earlier Saturday that there would be more.
"We are dedicating ourselves to carrying out more attacks against France and its allies. We ask the local population to stay far away from military zones and avoid explosions," spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui said.
The two suicide bombers were the only fatalities in the attacks. One soldier was lightly wounded in Friday's bombing. No one else was wounded in Saturday's attack, a soldier at the checkpoint said.