Malians go to the polls in watershed election

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Malians go to the polls in watershed election

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Malians go to the polls in watershed election

by AFP Videos 0:58 mins

Malians go to the polls in watershed election

by AFP Videos 0:58 mins

SHOTLIST: BAMAKO, MALI, 28 JULY, 2013 (SOURCE: AFPTV) -VAR people voting in Bamako SOUNDBITE 1 - Moumini Konaté (Vox pop) (man, in French, 7 secs): "It is very important for Mali, without this election it will be impossible to exit the crisis, Mali needs it, it's very important," SOUNDBITE 2 - Aïchata Cissé (Vox pop) (woman, in French, 7 secs): "For me the election is very important, it is for the future and happiness of Mali." SOUNDBITE 3 - Modibo Traoré (Vox pop) (man, in French, 14 secs): "It is the only solution to the crisis, we need to come out in huge numbers to show we are worthy of being Malian and to show to the country that we are patriots, we are here and we must vote." /// -------------------------------- AFP TEXT Mali-conflict-vote,newseries-WRAP Malians defy death threats in watershed vote by Frankie Taggart =(GRAPHIC+PICTURE+VIDEO)= ATTENTION - UPDATES throughout /// BAMAKO, July 28, 2013 (AFP) - Malians defied Islamist death threats to vote Sunday for a president expected to usher in a new dawn of peace and stability in the conflict-scarred nation. Voters have a choice of 27 candidates in the first election since last year's military coup upended one of the region's most stable democracies as Islamist militants hijacked a separatist uprising to seize a vast swathe in the desert north of the country. The ballot opened at 8:00 am (0800 GMT) under heavy security after one of the main Islamist armed groups in northern Mali said Saturday it would "strike" polling stations. "The polling stations and other voting places for what they are calling the elections will be targeted by mujahedeen strikes," the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said in a statement carried by neighbouring Mauritania's ANI news agency. It did not specify what form the attacks would take but the group warned Malian Muslims to "stay away from the polls". In a polling station at a school in Bamako, hundreds of voters had been queueing for more than an hour to cast their ballots. "We are tired of bad governance. I'd urge the candidates to accept the results of our vote," said machine operator Kalifa Traore, 56. Although the three-week campaign ended Friday without major incident, it played out in the shadow of violence in the north that has raised doubts over Mali's readiness to deliver a safe and credible election. Critics at home and abroad have argued that Mali, under pressure from the international community, is rushing to the polls and risking a botched election that could do more harm than good. But Louis Michel, the head of the European Union observation mission, sounded a note of optimism Friday, saying conditions had been met for a credible first round. "I believe that these elections can take place in a context and in conditions that are acceptable and do not allow for a distortion or an abuse of the result," he told reporters in the capital Bamako. Much of the worry ahead of the polls has been focused on Kidal, occupied for five months by Tuareg separatists until a ceasefire accord allowed the Malian army earlier this month to provide security. Clashes between Tuaregs and black Africans in the run-up to the election left four people dead. And gunmen thought to be from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) kidnapped five polling officials 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Kidal. Voting opened late in many parts of the town. At one polling station, each voter was being searched by soldiers from the United Nation's peacekeeping mission, which is charged with ensuring security Sunday and in the months after the election. The ballot is the first since the military mutiny in March last year that toppled democratically elected president Amadou Toumani Toure. The ensuing confusion helped the MNLA, MUJAO and other groups allied to Al-Qaeda to seize northern Mali. The UN deployment, which will reach 12,600 by the end of the year, allows France to start withdrawing most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to stop the Islamists from advancing towards Bamako. Haidara Aichata Cisse, the only woman in the race, goes head-to-head with 26 men, including past premiers Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Cheick Modibo Diarra, Modibo Sidibe and Soumana Sacko. Keita is seen as the main frontrunner alongside Soumaila Cisse, a former chairman of the Commission of the West African Monetary Union. Small crowds gathered at two polling stations in the northern desert town of Timbuktu were already reporting problems as the election began, however. "The first problem we noted 20 minutes after the start of operations is that... voters do not know where they are supposed to go to vote," a Malian election observer told AFP. The polling booths in Timbuktu were guarded by Malian soldiers, rifles slung over their shoulders. "I will do everything I can to vote, to elect a president who will save Mali, who will reconcile the north and the south, who will reconcile all Malians," English teacher Oumar Diakite told AFP. str-ft/gd

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