The president is also visiting Bamako, the capital of Mali.
As Hollande’s convoy rolled out of town on the carpet of sand that leads to the airport, the French president passed the billboards erected by the Islamic rebels, saying: ‘‘The city of Timbuktu was founded on Islam, and will be judged on Islamic law.’’ He passed storefronts where advertisements were blotted out, because they showed figures of women. The occupiers banned music and alcohol, smoking and dancing, playing football, and wearing jewelry, makeup or perfume. They lashed women who showed so much as a centimeter of skin, amputated the hands of thieves, and stoned a couple to death, because they had had children out of wedlock.
‘‘We have just spent 10 months in hell. Everything that demarcates the liberty of man was forbidden to us. We couldn’t smoke, we couldn’t listen to music, we couldn’t wear the clothes we wanted to wear,’’ Ben Essayati said.
One of the thousands of people who came out to see Hollande on Saturday took the time to write out a personal message, penned on a piece of particle board, which he hoisted above his head. It said: ‘‘Hollande, for us you represent the angel which stopped the calamity.’’
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed in Timbuktu, Mali contributed to this report.