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Voters head to polls in troubled Mali after years of delay

Habibou Kouyate, AFP | People wait to cast their vote for the municipal elections at a polling station in Bamako on November 20, 2016, Mali's first elections since 2013

Voters in Mali headed to the polls on Sunday for the first time since 2013, when international forces intervened to tackle rebel forces which threatened to split the country in two.

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Voters will elect 12,000 councilors in municipal elections throughout the country, two years later than originally scheduled.

The election campaigning has been marked by bitter opposition criticism of the government and calls for a voter boycott.

Despite the campaign posters and rallies, there has been little enthusiasm in the capital Bamako for this first election since August 2013, when President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was voted in.

The government is currently struggling to implement a peace deal and fighting off jihadist rebels in the north.

Islamic rebels have prevented campaigning and posters in some parts of the north.

The security issues in the north and centre of the country have resulted in opposition leader Soumaila Cisse calling for a delay to the voting.

Al-Qaeda threat remains

At the request of the Malian government, France intervened in January 2013 to drive the Islamist fighters away from the north and the UN mission was deployed a few months later, but large tracts of Mali remain in chaos. The jihadists were never completely defeated -- merely displaced.

Last year, Mali's rebel alliance signed a peace deal along with government and loyalist militias.

It was hoped that the deal would bring stability to the northern desert, the cradle of several Tuareg uprisings and headquarters for many Islamist fighters.

But since then, rival armed groups have repeatedly violated the ceasefire, threatening attempts to give the north a measure of autonomy that might help prevent separatist uprisings.

The UN itself expressed concern about ceasefire violations and attacks on its peacekeepers.

A total of 32 peacekeepers from MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) have been killed so far this year, according to the UN peacekeeping website.

Tribal rivalries and banditry have brought misery to the north, where many children are at risk from malnutrition.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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