Parliamentary polls in Mali have taken place, marred by apathy and unrest. The vote is seen as key in restoring political stability, following a military coup and an insurgency in the north of the country.
Heavy security surrounded the vote on Sunday, with some 6.5 million Malians eligible to take part in the elections. More than 1,000 candidates took part in the poll for 147 seats in the new national assembly.
The election turnout appeared to fall short of that for a runoff presidential election in July, which saw Malians elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to lead the country. Some 50 percent of voters were recorded as having voted in that poll.
"Today we have noticed that participation is weak," said Gao prefect Seydou Timbely. "There weren't enough means invested in encouraging the population to come out and vote.
Keita's Rally for Mali (RPM) party has vowed to deliver "a comfortable majority," saying it aims to rebuild the economy and calm ethnic tensions.
"I wanted to express my joy at coming to vote," Keita said after casting his ballot in the capital Bamako.
Although the vote was largely peaceful across much of the country, unrest did disrupt polling in some parts of northern Mali, which has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks.
Security had been especially high in the north, with UN peacekeepers and Malian soldiers tasked with protecting voters in areas such as Gao and Kidal.
Destroyed ballot boxes
Tuareg separatists threw stones at those arriving to cast ballots in Kidal, according to military sources, as part of a protest demanding independence.
Voters in the town of Talataye were said to have been prevented from taking part in the election. The AFP news agency reported that Tuareg activists had destroyed ballot boxes there.
The news agency AP also quoted Malian officials as saying there had been fatal clashes on Saturday between members of the Tuareg and Peul ethnic groups. That unrest, however, was believed to be linked to a local dispute over the death of an elderly Tuareg man earlier in the week.
Tuareg rebels from the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of the north following a military coup in March last year. Their control over the vast swathe of territory was usurped by al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels, before a largely-successful campaign led by French troops earlier this year to re-establish government control over the area.
The light-skinned Tuareg group claims that it is marginalized by the country's black majority in the south of Mali.
rc/av (AP, AFP, dpa)