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Budapest-Bamako rally off to a shaky start

Hungary,Sports, Sat, 26 Jan 2013 IANS

Budapest, Jan 26 (IANS) The Budapest-Bamako rally got off to a shaky start from here amid warnings from authorities that drivers were heading to a war zone.

The rally is not going to Bamako this year as there is serious fighting underway in Mali. It is heading further south to Guinea-Bissau, reports Xinhua.

The rally has been called a low-budget version of the Paris-Dakar, which anyone can enter with any vehicle whatsoever, as long as it is street-legal. It runs 8,682 km and will cross eight countries, dealing with terrain ranging from deserts and savannahs to jungles.

It is partly a charity event and participants are carrying a wide variety of donations, including tools, medical instruments, bicycles and other equipment, weighing some 24 tonnes.

The Hungarian foreign ministry and the Counter-Terrorism Centre have both issued warnings and have asked organisers to cancel the meet for which 420 entries have been received.

They have pointed to the fact that Islamist extremists recently captured a gas production facility in Algeria in support of Islamists battling the government in Mali, the rally's original destination. Sixty seven people died in that incident including 37 foreigners.

The rally's chief organiser Andras Szabo Gal responded by pointing out that participants would be given special protection by the Mauritanian authorities in the danger zone, and if necessary, they would be able to form a closed convoy with a military escort.

He said that calling off or postponing the rally would be more hazardous than holding it, because if cancelled, at least half of the people entered would head for Africa on their own, without protections. That, he said, was more dangerous than holding the rally.

The drivers will leave Hungary for Slovenia and then go on to Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea Bissau.

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