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Mali presidential election campaign kicks off amid tight security

This picture taken in Bamako on July 6, 2018 shows a list of political parties running for upcoming presidential elections in Mali displayed within the code of conduct signed by their respective candidates. / AFP PHOTO / MICHELE CATTANI

The official campaign to become president of Mali kicked off on Saturday under heightened security, three weeks before election day in the West African nation.

Mali’s incumbent president Ibrahima Boubacar Keita, who took office in 2013, and opposition frontrunner Soumaila Cisse are expected to be the two main candidates in the July 29 polls out of a field of 24 hopefuls.

More than 30,000 security and defence officers have been mobilised, according to the interior ministry, to “secure candidates on the ground and voting operations”, amid fears of possible jihadist attacks.

Mali has been badly hit by an Islamist insurgency in the north which has spread south and into neighbouring countries Burkina Faso and Niger despite peace efforts.

France, the former colonial overseer, intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces combat al-Qaeda-linked jihadists but attacks have steadily worsened in recent years.

Last Sunday four civilians were killed and dozens wounded, including four French soldiers, in a bombing in northern Mali amid a spate of attacks.

More than 80 election observers from the European Union will be present for the polls, the EU Election Observation Mission in Mali said in a statement this week.

On Saturday, election posters were put up in various parts of the capital Bamako but an AFP journalist said there was little excitement at the moment.