BAMAKO: Millions of Malians ere expected to vote on Sunday in parliamentary elections intended to cap the troubled west African nation’s return to democracy but overshadowed by the threat of Islamist reprisals.
The polls mark the troubled west African nation’s first steps to recovery after it was upended by a military coup in March last year, finalizing a process begun with the election of its first post-conflict president in August.
Some 6.5 million Malians are eligible to elect a new national assembly, with more than 1,000 candidates running for 147 seats.
But voting takes place amid an upsurge in violence by al-Qaeda-linked rebels who stalk the vast northern desert, an ever-present danger to French and African troops who are tasked with providing security for the election alongside the Malian army.
French security forces witnessed their first attack in the capital Bamako on Friday, when a police officer working with the army was lucky to escape serious injury after a gunman thought to be influenced by Islamists opened fire on him.
A day earlier, militants had shelled the northern city of Gao, and although their rockets fell harmlessly short of the main urban center, the attack underlined the continuing security threat.