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President Keita favorite to win Mali poll overshadowed by militant threat



BAMAKO (Reuters) – Malians voted in Sunday's presidential runoff election, and reigning Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is likely to beat the opposition opposition despite a rise in ethnic and militant violence during his term in office.

The first round on July 29 was hampered by armed attacks and other security incidents at about one-fifth of polling stations. The threat of violence could dampen Sunday's turnout, but when the vote began, no serious incidents were reported.

The chaotic first round was a reminder that militant groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have regrouped since a French intervention in 2013 and are now extending their influence over Mali's desert north and into the fertile center ,

Dramane Camara, 31, was the first to vote in a polling station in a school in the capital, Bamako.

"I voted without problems I came to fulfill my duty as a citizen," Camara said. "I expect the new president to solve the problem of the North, namely peace, because the return of peace means the return of NGOs, investors and job creation."

Keita won 41 percent of the vote last month against Soumalia Cisse, a former finance minister and key opposition leader, for nearly 18 percent.

Cisse accused Keita's government of electoral fraud, but the Constitutional Court confirmed the outcome.

Cisse, 68, accuses Keita, 73, of aggravating violence and accusing his government of rampant corruption.

"Continuing on the path pursued by those who had the heavy responsibility to preside over the fate of our country would bring us closer to the chaos and abyss," Cisse warned of his latest election campaign on Friday

Malilink civil society recorded 932 militant attacks in the first half of 2018, nearly twice the total for 2017. Their activities in Mali and neighboring Sahel countries have unnerved Western powers such as France and the United States, which has thousands of troops in the country Stationed in the region.

Jihadists are also fomenting inter-communal conflicts, mainly between shepherds and shepherds. Ethnic killing has claimed hundreds of civilian lives this year, including at least 11 last week in the central Mopti region.

Keita's better-than-expected first-round show and Cisse's failure to win endorsements from the third and fourth placers are promising well for the incumbent. Keita beat Cisse in 2013 and is aiming for a second term of five years.

At his last rally in the capital Bamako on Friday, Keita gave a self-assured tone.

"Some people were skeptical that these elections There were some who invited me to retire," he said about the noise of the vuvuzelas of his followers. "Let them understand that we were able to organize credible elections, and we did."

Despite the militant threat, Malian polls have generally been peaceful, with no post-election violence being common in many countries of the region] (Additional coverage by Cheick Amadou Diouara, written by Aaron Ross and Angus MacSwan, edited by Raissa Kasolowsky)


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