Mali's opposition leader Soumaila Cisse dies from Covid-19

The 71-year-old was kidnapped by an Al Qaeda-linked group in March and only released six months later

Mali's opposition leader Soumaila Cisse, who was kidnapped by extremists earlier this year and considered a leading contender in 2022 elections, has died in Paris after contracting Covid-19.

“The doctors did everything to keep him alive, but that’s the way of God’s will,” his eldest son Bocar told The Associated Press.

The news throws Malian politics into new uncertainty. Mr Cissé was the runner-up in the past three presidential elections and many thought he had the best chances of finally winning in 2022.

The 71-year-old was taken hostage by an Al Qaeda-linked group in March while campaigning for legislative elections in his home town of Niafunke in northern Mali.

Amid public pressure, the Malian government obtained his freedom in October, along with that of French and Italian hostages in exchange for the release of some 200 militants from Malian prisons.

Mali's interim leader Sem Ba N'Daw expressed his condolences to Mr Cisse's family and supporters on Friday, saying millions of Malians “are in shock” at the news.

Describing a meeting with him after he was freed, he said Mr Cisse's “optimism had remained intact," and said “the country still needed his experience and wisdom to face today's challenges.”

No immediate funeral plans were announced.