Tearful Keita appeals for peace in Mali

Mali midfielder Seydou Keita broke down in tears as he appealed on Sunday for an end to fighting in his country, using the platform of the Africa Cup of Nations to call for peace.

More than 20 northern separatist rebels were killed during two days of clashes in the Timbuktu region on Saturday in continuing violence as Tuareg insurgents seek to create an independent state in the north of Mali.

"I'm appealing to the people to stop. It's not normal, we don't do that. We need peace, we are all Malians," he told a news conference after Mali had reached the semi-finals by beating hosts Gabon on penalties.

"The president of the republic needs to do the most he can to stop it. We are celebrating our win but at the same time we feel very sad. There is a sadness among the players," he said before breaking down.

The Barcelona midfielder scored the decisive kick in Mali's 5-4 shootout win but before taking questions from reporters he made his tearful appeal.

Civilians have been fleeing attacks in recent days and Tuaregs have left the capital Bamako, in the south, fearing reprisals after violent demonstrations this week.

The rebels say they are fighting to secure the independence of Azawad, Mali's three northern regions, Kidal, Timbuktu and Gau.

The government accuses the rebels of atrocities and collaborating with al Qaeda, a charge they reject.