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Polls close in Mali election held amid terror fears

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita hopes to have secured a second term.

Thousands of Malians have voted in the presidential election in the capital Bamako, but others in the central region struggled to do so amid threats by extremist groups.

Polls closed on Sunday and officials began counting the votes, with results expected within the week.

If no candidate won more than 50% of the vote in the first round, Malians will vote in a second round on August 12.

Voters have expressed concern about being targeted after al Qaida’s Mali branch warned against going to the polls.

Deadly communal clashes between ethnic groups and accusations of heavy-handed counter-terror operations have complicated what President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita hopes will be an election victory leading him to a second term.

The 73-year-old, who was elected in 2013, faces 23 candidates in the first round.

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Malians wait to cast their ballot in the capital Bamako (Baba Ahmed/AP)

As he voted in Bamako, Mr Keita commended Malians on a successful and peaceful day of voting.

“It is a real pleasure for me to perform this citizen act, and it is the start of victory for the people of Mali, who have voted in calm and serenity,” he said.

“This vote will have demonstrated our democratic maturity and our status as a great people.”

His main challenger is 68-year-old Soumaila Cisse, his rival in 2013, who has criticised the president for not addressing Mali’s rising insecurity.

No polling stations opened in some central Mali Fulani villages under the control of jihadists, including Yamassadiou and Onde. And despite the presence of Mali’s army in Boulikessi, stations did not open there.

Only a few stations were closed in Douentza district in Mali’s central Mopti region, where armed men kidnapped the head of a polling station in Gandamia village, an official said. Though that particular station reopened, people feared going to the polls.

Opposition leader Mr Cisse, who voted in his village Niafounke in the Timbuktu region, said that in some villages, ballot boxes were removed.

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Security personnel stand guard at a polling station in Bamako (Baba Ahmed/AP)

“Despite the difficulties of insecurity and transport, it was a duty for me to come and vote here with the people who trust me,” Mr Cisse said.

“Malians must vote, it is very important. Each Malian must also be vigilant against attempts of electoral fraud. There must be transparency.”

Several political parties have expressed doubts about a valid election after duplicate and fictitious polling stations were listed on the electoral commission’s website.

And many in Mali remain worried about post-election violence should Mr Keita win in the first round.

“I voted, but all that people are saying is worrying me. I do hope there won’t be an election crisis,” said 67-year-old Ibrahim Traore.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Malians to maintain a peaceful course and said in a statement on Saturday he was encouraged by a peaceful campaigning period, despite security challenges in the north and center.

“The Secretary-General urges all political actors in Mali to commit to making this poll a peaceful, free and transparent process, and to resolve any possible dispute through the appropriate institutions in accordance with the law,” his statement said.

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