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Friday, January 9

Stages canceled due to Mali gangs

PARIS -- The weekend stages of the Dakar Rally were canceled for security reasons on Friday after reports of armed gangs awaiting drivers in Mali.

Organizers said in a statement on the official rally Web site that the decision to bypass eastern Mali and cancel the 10th and 11th stages was taken following advice from French and Malian authorities.

The Eurosport Web site said there were reports of armed gangs awaiting the rally in the west African country that borders Algeria to the north.

Organizers said competitors would head from Mauritania to Bamako, with motorcycle riders flown to the Mali capital, before heading back to Bobo Dioulasso.

"For security reasons concerning the rally and the competitors, the organization feels it is necessary to modify the 10th and 11th stages," organizers said.

"Both stages have been canceled and replaced by a liaison all the way to Bamako and then to Bobo Dioulasso.

"The rally will therefore stop on Saturday the 10th of January in Bamako and will head to Bobo Dioulasso on Sunday the 11th," the statement said. "A rest day will be staged there as planned."

Saturday's 910-kilometer 10th stage was to have been from Nema to Mopti while the 11th was 747 km.

The Dakar-Cairo rally experienced similar problems in 2000 after warnings from Washington and Paris that hundreds of Algerian Islamic guerrillas planned to ambush the race in Niger.

Four stages were canceled and transport planes were used to shuttle competitors and their vehicles over the Sahara desert into Libya in a 2,000 km airlift from Niger.

Japan's Hiroshi Masuoka reported on Thursday that a Mauritanian army soldier had pointed a gun at him and demanded money when he entered the country on Wednesday.

Masuoka, winner for the past two years, was fastest in Friday's ninth stage, ahead of French Mitsubishi teammate Stephane Peterhansel.

Peterhansel remained the overall leader.

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