BAMAKO - At least 20 people were killed in a gunbattle in the northern Mali town of Gao on Wednesday between local Tuareg separatists and al Qaeda-linked Islamists, witnesses said.

Gao resident Habsatou Cisse said by telephone she could see five bodies from the house in which she was sheltering, while other residents reported 11 and four bodies in two separate locations around the town.

The battle follows weeks of growing tension between the separatist Tuareg-led group MNLA and well-armed local Islamists who helped it seize the northern two-thirds of Mali in April.

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