Bamako - Foreign troops and weapons were flown into an army base in Mali on Thursday, witnesses told AFP, as the country's president asked France for help to fight al-Qaeda linked Islamists.
Witnesses and an official told AFP that military aircraft carrying weapons and foreign soldiers had arrived at an army base in Sevare in central Mali, not far from the town of Konna, captured by Islamists rebels earlier on Thursday.
One witness at the airport reported seeing weapons and soldiers leaving a C-160 military transport aircraft.
"Some of the men were white," the witness added.
"The planes did several trips to Sevare airport, where they left material and men," said another witness.
The Malian defence ministry said it would hold a news conference on these developments on Friday.
But one Malian official, confirming the arrival of the military aircraft, said they included one aircraft from an undisclosed European nation, which had left men and material at Sevare.
At the United Nations, Mali's interim president Dioncounda Traore requested "military assistance" from French President Francois Hollande, a UN diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity Thursday.
The UN Security Council held emergency talks on Mali on Thursday amid growing international alarm over advances by radical Islamist forces.
France's UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, declined to say how his country would respond to Mali's request, telling reporters a decision would be announced in Paris on Friday.
Armed Islamists who took control of the north of the country nine months ago and have imposed a harsh version of Islamic Sharia there.
Sevare lies 650km north of the Malian capital Bamako - and just 60km south of Konna.