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Anger, gloom as French journalists mourn slain colleagues

A picture shows the logo of French radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) with a piece of black tape across it as a sign of mourning at the RFI headquarters in Paris on November 3, 2013
A picture shows the logo of French radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) with a piece of black tape across it as a sign of mourning at the RFI headquarters in Paris on November 3, 2013

Black tape runs across a red Radio France Internationale logo, a sign of mourning at its Paris headquarters, where visibly distraught journalists battle to come to terms with the murder of two colleagues in Mali.

Some reporters appeared on the verge of tears as they entered the RFI foyer, where portraits of two journalists abducted and slain in northern Mali on Saturday are pasted on its glass-fronted entrance.

"We cannot believe that their chairs will be empty," said a deeply moved Nicolas Champeaux, who works on RFI's Africa desk.

"Our work is such that we may have to take a bullet, that's the risk," he said.

"But to be targeted because one is a journalist, that's unfair and it should attract universal indignation."

Described as "cold-blooded" and "odious" by the French government. the murders of veteran journalist Ghislaine Dupont and sound technician Claude Verlon rocked France and sparked shock and outrage at RFI.

The two had travelled to the far northeastern town of Kidal for an interview with a spokesman for the Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and were abducted outside his home.

Two hours later their bodies were found alongside an abandoned 4x4, riddled with bullets.

"We don't know why them and why there," said RFI director Cecile Megie, as the organisation plunged into mourning.

None of the armed Al Qaeda-linked groups active in the troubled region have claimed responsibility.

Both reporters had spent decades covering various conflicts in Africa. Dupont spent a decade reporting from the restive Democratic Republic of Congo before being deported in 2006.

A slew of condolence messages poured in from across the world at the network's headquarters in the Paris suburb of Issy-Les-Moulineaux as workers voiced incomprehension and anger.

RFI, which is a beacon of news for Africa, has lost four journalists since 2001 -- one in Afghanistan, another in Ivory Coast and the latest two in Mali.

RFI 'an institution' in Africa

RFI broadcasts to 40 million listeners around the world every week and is the most popular radio station in a large number of francophone countries in Africa.

It is a credible source of news on a continent where the vast majority of state-backed media is biased or blocks news unflattering to the image of the government in question.

"RFI is more than a radio in Africa, it's an institution," Marie-Christine Saragosse, CEO of France Media Monde, which owns RFI, said on France 24.

"Everyone is in mourning," said Bruno Daroux from RFI's world service.

"We have received innumerable messages from listeners coming from all over and from people who knew them," said Daroux, adding that peers of the slain journalists also wrote in to express their condolences and indignation.

More than 1,300 messages flooded the address [email protected] and many Malians expressed shock that the tragedy took place in their country, said Megie.

"We have received hundreds of witness accounts from Malians which are enlightening," she said.

"They are also revolted and ashamed that this took place on their soil," Megie said, adding: "The first word to remember is 'assassination'."

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius visited the RFI headquarters on Sunday to express his solidarity.

"I told the RFI teams to continue to do their work, that is what those seasoned journalists who were killed in such an odious manner would have wanted," he said.

"The situation for journalists has changed. Before being a journalist meant being protected, now it means you are a target."

However journalists at RFI said the killings only strengthened their resolve to return to Mali and cover the story.

"It will motivate us further to go back," said Champeaux, a sentiment echoed by the station director Megie who said: "We must go on. We will return to Mali."

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