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Dakar Rally canceled by organizers

  • Story Highlights
  • The Dakar Rally, due to start Saturday, is called off because of security fears
  • The French Government warned of dangers after recent murders in Mauritania
  • The rally was scheduled to pass through Mauritania for a total of nine days
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LISBON, Portugal -- The Dakar Rally has been called off a day before it was due to get under way, because of security fears.

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French Foreign Minister Kouchner warned the Rally organizers of the danger.

The race was scheduled to start in Lisbon on Saturday but the murder of four French tourists in Mauritania on December 24 led to the French government advising against any travel to the African country.

Nine of the rally's stages were due to pass through Mauritania from January 11-19 before the event finished in Dakar on January 20.

"Following several consultations with the French government -- in particular the Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- and taking into account its firm recommendations, the organizers of the Dakar have taken the decision to cancel the 2008 edition of the rally scheduled for January 5-20 between Lisbon and the Senegalese capital," the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) said in a statement.

The ASO said there had been "direct threats against the race issued by terrorist groups."

It is the first time in its 30-year history that the controversial race has failed to go ahead and it is likely to cast doubts over future editions.

After the killing of the tourists in Mauritania on December 24, the French government advised all its nationals, and the Dakar participants, that the country was unsafe for travel.

Many of the competitors had already arrived for technical checks after Rally organizers and participants had initially said that they were prepared to take the risk.

But the pressure increased early Friday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner saying: "We are warning them -- it is dangerous.

"I hope that they have understood, but it's their business, they are a private organization."

Apart from the deaths of the tourists there have been concerns that an Al-Qaeda group is active in northern Africa and could target the high-profile race.

The Mauritanian government said the shooting of the tourists and a separate attack on a military base that left three soldiers dead were isolated incidents and that claims of an Al-Qaeda plot were unsubstantiated.

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Mali had already been excluded from the race for security reasons. Daniel Bilalian of France-Televisions, a TV partner of the rally, told Europe-1 radio that "wisdom had prevailed".

He added: "There were risks, warnings had been given ... if the slightest thing, the slightest incident had happened in Mauritania, not to mention accidents or attacks, then the whole credibility of ASO would have been called into question and ASO could not allow that." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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