Mali votes in runoff election amid heavy security presence


Millions of Malians were voting on Sunday in an unprecedented run-off presidential election, which has been overshadowed by widespread allegations of fraud and the threat of Islamist extremist violence. The current president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, is the favourite in the poll, having won 41% of the vote in the first round two weeks ago while challenger Soumaïla Cissé took only 18%.

Extra security forces have been deployed after around 250,000 people, 3% of the electorate, were unable to vote because of insecurity during the first round. Armed attacks and other incidents were recorded at about a fifth of polling stations. Mali is key to the battle against Islamic extremism in the Sahel region and to efforts to restrict illegal immigration to Europe.  French, US and United Nations troops have been fighting militants in the unstable and impoverished country since 2012 when ethnic and Islamist groups seized swaths of territory and the city of Timbuktu.

However, government authority is still weak in many places and observers say militants, some linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State, have regrouped since French troops intervened in 2013 to push them back. They are now expanding their influence across Mali’s desert north and into the fertile centre.(theguardian)…[+]