Mali has lifted a nationwide state of emergency that has been in place since a French-led military offensive was launched to combat Islamist insurgents in the country. The lift comes weeks ahead of elections.
The state of emergency, put in place on January 12, followed a French-led military offensive aimed at driving out Islamist militant groups that had taken control of the country's north.
"The state of emergency has de facto been lifted since midnight yesterday," Captain Modibo Naman Traore said.
"The military situation has now stabilized, lifting the state of emergency will allow the candidates in the presidential election to campaign," Traore said.
On the coattails of a January 2012 revolt by ethnic Tuareg rebels in Mali's north, extremists linked to al Qaeda set to work creating an Islamic state and imposing Shariah rule. In January of this year, as the militants moved south toward the capital Bamako, France intervened at the Malian government's request.
The state of emergency had given the army sweeping powers and banned gatherings of more than 50 people. The announcement marks a gradual return to normality in the west African country, a once stable democracy.
Now, at least 26 candidates, including four former prime ministers, are vying for the presidency.
With about 500,000 people still displaced after the conflict, many have raised concerns whether the country is ready for July 28 elections. Elections in Mali will be observed by the European Union.
hc/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)