A video published on YouTube appears to show seven members of a French family, including four children, abducted by Islamist group Boko Haram in Cameroon.
The footage shows an armed man reading a statement in front of two men, a woman and four children.
Claiming to be from the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, the alleged kidnappers demand the release of prisoners in Cameroon and Nigeria.
The family was snatched last Tuesday by gunmen on motorbikes.
Following the abduction, the French government said it believed the couple, their children aged five, eight, 10 and 12, and an uncle were taken across the border into Nigeria, probably by Boko Haram.
The family lives in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, where the father worked for the French gas group Suez. They had been returning from a visit to Waza National Park when they were kidnapped.
On Thursday, France confirmed it had “received information that the group Boko Haram is claiming to be holding the French family”.
“These images are terribly shocking and display cruelty without limits,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
A video published on YouTube appears to show seven members of a French family, including four children, abducted by Islamist group Boko Haram in Cameroon
In the video, one of the male hostages said they had been kidnapped by Jamaatu Ahlis Sunna Liddaawati wal-Jihad – the Arabic name for Boko Haram.
One of the alleged kidnappers warned that France had launched a war on Islam.
Behind him, the alleged family is shown flanked by two armed men in camouflage uniforms.
A source close to the family confirmed their identities to the AFP news agency.
Laurent Fabius said it was still trying to verify the authenticity of the video.
Last week, a French minister wrongly confirmed reports that the family had been found and released in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, French nationals have been urged to leave northern Cameroon “as quickly as possible”.
The French foreign ministry said on its website citizens were “officially advised not to go to the far north of Cameroon (the shores of Lake Chad in the South Maroua), and the border with Nigeria, until further notice”.
Boko Haram has staged many attacks across northern Nigeria in recent years, targeting churches, government buildings and the security forces.
Another Islamist group – Ansaru – is also active in the region.
Last Sunday, Ansaru claimed the abduction of seven foreign workers in Nigeria.
Italian, British, Greek and Lebanese workers are thought to be among those held after an attack on a construction project in Bauchi state.
Ansaru also says it is holding a French national, Francis Colump, who was seized in the northern state of Katsina.
French jets have carried out air strikes in Mali’s far north as they try to secure the final rebel stronghold of Kidal after a three-week offensive.
Thirty jets targeted Islamist militants’ training and communication centres around Tessalit – a mountainous area near the Algerian border.
France’s President Francois Hollande has pledged to help rebuild Mali after the rebels who seized its north are beaten.
But there are fears the fighters could re-group in the mountains near Kidal.
It is believed that several French civilian hostages are being held by militants in the area, making the situation even more delicate.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio on Monday that the air strikes were aimed at “destroying the bases and depots” of the rebels.
He said: “They cannot stay there a long time unless they have new supplies.”
Although French troops captured Kidal’s airport on Wednesday, rebels from a Tuareg group who want their own homeland in northern Mali – the MNLA – still have control of the town itself.
Malian Interim President Dioncounda Traore has offered to hold talks with the MNLA in order to help secure Kidal.
At the same time, French-led forces will begin chasing down Islamist militants who have retreated to desert or mountainous hide-outs.
Tessalit is about 200 km (125 miles) north of Kidal and is a gateway to the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, where rebels are believed to have sought refuge after being forced from the main population centres in the north and east of the country.
French jets have carried out air strikes in Mali’s far north as they try to secure the final rebel stronghold of Kidal after a three-week offensive
Reports have also emerged that a senior figure in the main militant Islamist movement – Ansar Dine – has been captured near the Algerian border by a rival separatist group.
Malian security sources quoted by AFP news agency named the man as Mohamed Moussa Ag Mouhamed, third in command of the group. The report cannot be verified.
Speaking in Bamako on Saturday, Francois Hollande pledged more French aid to its former colony and vowed to restore cultural sites damaged by the rebels.
Francois Hollande received a warm welcome on Saturday as he visited the northern desert city of Timbuktu, which was recaptured by French and Malian troops a week ago.
On Monday, Laurent Fabius said France intended to hand over control of Timbuktu to African forces as soon as possible.
He said a French withdrawal from the city “could take place very quickly, we are working on it”.
A total of 3,500 French troops are currently in Mali.
Nearly 2,000 army personnel from Chad and Niger are helping consolidate the recent gains. A further 6,000 troops will be deployed as part of the UN-backed African-led International Support Mission to Mali (Afisma).
Despite the rapid progress of French forces in recapturing parts of the north, it may be premature to talk of mission accomplished, analysts say.
It is thought the mountainous areas around Kidal provide perfect hiding places for the militants.
On Saturday Francois Hollande said it would be wrong to assume the operation was over while Dioncounda Traore said it would be difficult to completely rid the country of Islamists.
West African leaders have been told they must be involved in the military offensive to drive Islamist insurgents out of Mali.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France had been obliged to send in troops “very, very rapidly otherwise there would be no more Mali”.
Laurent fabius has told a meeting in the Ivory Coast that the deployment of African soldiers is now a priority.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara also called for more support for Mali.
He said “the hour has come for a broader commitment by the major powers and more countries and organizations… to show greater solidarity with France and Africa in the total and multi-faceted war against terrorism in Mali”.
France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday that 2,000 troops were now on the ground in Mali, and the final total could top the 2,500 originally pledged.
The troops will stay in Mali for as long as necessary “to defeat terrorism” in West Africa, President Francois Hollande has said.
Islamist fighters on Friday withdrew from two towns in central Mali following French air strikes.
Officials say the Islamists have now left the southern town of Diabaly, which they took on Monday, while Mali’s army has also recaptured Konna, which was seized by rebels triggering the French intervention.
West African leaders have been told they must be involved in the military offensive to drive Islamist insurgents out of Mali
Laurent Fabius said upon his arrival in the Ivorian capital Abidjan that it was time for the African nations to take over “as soon as possible”.
“France was obliged to intervene very, very rapidly, otherwise there would have been no more Mali,” he was quoted by the Agence France Presse as saying.
“But it is well understood that it is the Africans that must pick up the baton,” he added.
Laurent Fabius also confirmed that France would lead a European mission next month to help train and rebuild the Malian army.
He has urged Africa’s international partners to help with logistical and financial support and said a donors’ meeting in Addis Ababa at the end of the month would be crucial in addressing the needs of Mali and the region.
The first 100 troops of an African force – from Togo and Nigeria – landed in Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Thursday.
They are being deployed under a UN Security Council resolution.
The original UN-backed strategy to reclaim northern Mali from Islamist rebels had France – among other Western powers – providing logistical support to an African-led force, adds our correspondent, but it is now clear that French troops will remain at the frontline of operations.
Nigeria will lead the West African force, with Chad, Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Togo also sending soldiers.
Nigeria says it will increase its forces to 1,200.
Chad has confirmed it will send 2,000 soldiers and it may also contribute its air force, considered one of the most effective on the continent.
Foreign forces in Mali
2,000 French troops on the ground in Mali, with 500 or more to come
French Mirage and Rafale jets, Gazelle helicopters
Chad to send 2,000 troops
Nigeria to send 1,200 troops; Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo expected to send 500 each, and Benin 300
Ghana and Guinea also to send troops
UK providing two C17 cargo planes for French effort
France’s President Francois Hollande has said he plans a new law to punish denial that the 1915-1916 killing of Armenians was genocide.
A previous law approved by the French parliament was struck down in February by the Constitutional Council, which said it infringed freedom of speech.
Turkey rejects the term “genocide” for the deaths of Armenians during their deportation by the Ottoman Empire.
The issue has strained Franco-Turkish relations in recent years.
Francois Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy had also ordered his government to draft a new law after the old one was struck down.
“Francois Hollande has again expressed his willingness to propose a bill designed to curb the denial of the Armenian genocide, as he had said during his campaign and even before,” the Coordinating Council of Armenian Organisations of France (CCAF) told the AFP news agency.
Francois Hollande has said he plans a new law to punish denial that the 1915-1916 killing of Armenians was genocide
A delegation from the CCAF will meet Francois Hollande before the end of the month to discuss what form the new law would take, French media reports say.
On Thursday, remarks by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius during a meeting with his Turkish counterpart appeared to indicate that the Constitutional Council’s ruling would make it impossible to take up the issue again.
However, Francois Hollande’s office said on Saturday: “The president expressed his commitments during the campaign. He will keep them.
“We must find a path, a road that allows for a text that is consistent with the constitution.”
The vote on the previous bill in January spurred angry protests in both in Paris and Ankara. The Turkish government suspended political and military co-operation with France.
The Turkish government argues that judging what happened in eastern Turkey in 1915-1916 should be left to historians, and that the new French law would have restricted freedom of speech.
Armenia says up to 1.5 million people died in 1915-1916 as the Ottoman empire split. Turkey has said the number of deaths was much smaller.
The killings are regarded as the seminal event of modern Armenian history, a tragic bond uniting one of the world’s most dispersed peoples.
Among the other states which formally recognize them as genocide are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Russia and Uruguay. The UK, US, Israel and others use different terminology.
France is home to an estimated 500,000 ethnic Armenians while about 550,000 Turkish citizens also live in the country.
• Both the Holocaust and killing of the Armenians are recognized as acts of genocide in France
• Denial of the Holocaust is punishable under the 1990 Gayssot law, which is based on the findings of the Nuremberg Tribunal
• Some legal experts argue that unless the Armenian killings are formally recognized as an act of genocide by an international commission their denial cannot be made punishable
• In the absence of international certification, some legal experts argue the term “Armenian genocide” may be challenged on grounds of freedom of speech
• French MPs argued they had sufficient authority to legislate both on acts of genocide and their denial
Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad, has defected and is on his way to Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said.
Laurent Fabius described it as a “hard blow for the regime” that showed Bashar al-Assad’s entourage was beginning to realise the regime was unsustainable.
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey, his family confirmed.
If confirmed, it would be the highest-level defection since the unrest began.
Pro-government website Syriasteps said earlier Gen. Manaf Tlas had made an “escape”, adding the move was “insignificant”.
Earlier rumors about his possible defection in March proved to be false.
Speaking at a meeting of Friends of Syria in Paris, Laurent Fabius said: “A senior official from the Syrian regime, a commander in the Republican Guard, has defected and is headed to Paris.”
“[Bashar al- Assad’s] close entourage is beginning to understand that the regime is unsustainable,” he added.
“Even those close to Assad have begun to understand that one cannot support a slaughterer like Bashar al-Assad.”
His father, former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlas, is reportedly living in France.
Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad, has defected and is on his way to Paris
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas’s intentions may only become clear if and when he appears in public to outline his plans.
Amer al-Sadeq, a member of a Damascus-based opposition group, described the latest development as “a good sign”.
“Defecting soldiers, we see many of them, defecting officers, the more they come the better it is to make the regime weaker,” said Amer al-Sadeq.
Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, believed to be in his mid-40s, is a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard. As a young man he attended military training with President Bashar al-Assad.
Gen. Manaf Tlas has been under a form of home arrest since May 2011 because he opposed the security solution that the regime has been implementing, sources say.
He also was the first government official to meet the opposition back last year to try to start a dialogue and find a political solution to the 16-month crisis.
Unlike most of Syria’s Alawite leaders, the son of former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlas is a Sunni Muslim.
Syria’s majority Sunni community has been at the forefront of the revolt against the president and has borne the brunt of the state’s crackdown, which the UN estimates has left at least 10,000 people dead.
For decades, the Tlas family has given support to the Assad family, helping to ensure Bashar al-Assad’s succession to the presidency 12 years ago.
If Manaf Tlas’ permanent departure from Syria is confirmed, it would mark the first break of a member of President Bashar al-Assad’s close circle, correspondents say.
Observers believe that the move may encourage other Sunni officers to consider their allegiances.
Gen. Manaf Tlas’s departure comes as French President Francois Hollande is hosting a Paris Friends of Syria conference with representatives of more than 100 countries to try to find a way to end the violence in Syria.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the representatives to persuade Russia and China to end their support for the Syrian regime.
“I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and to not only urge but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” she said.
“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime.”
She also called on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution imposing immediate sanctions on Syria, including under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, allowing for the possibility of military force.
The Paris meeting follows similar events in Tunis and Istanbul which demanded tougher action against the Assad regime.
Russia and China, which both hold vetoes in the Security Council, are not at the meeting.
UN diplomats are working on a document calling for restrictions on commercial activity if Mr Assad fails to abide by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan and roadmap for a political transition.
The roadmap – announced last weekend by Annan after a meeting of world powers in Geneva – includes an interim government to enable the Syrian people to live ”independently and democratically”.
The Western powers believe that Bashar al-Assad should play no part in Syria’s future, but the roadmap allows President Assad an effective veto over any interim candidate he opposes.
Some 15,800 people have died in more than a year of violence in Syria, activists say.
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