Mali sets 7 July election date, says minister

A Malian soldier stands guard as French soldiers patrols next to the central police station, on 11 February 2013 in Gao
Image caption The government wants the elections to unite the country

Mali will hold nationwide presidential elections on 7 July, the interim government's territorial administration minister has announced.

It would be a key step to stabilising Mali following the intervention of French troops to oust Islamist fighters from the north of the country, he said.

Legislative elections will follow on 21 July, along with a presidential run-off if required.

Thousands of troops from France and African nations are currently in Mali.

Elections were due in Mali in April 2012, but a coup the month before threw the country into disarray.

The army said it was prompted to act as it was under-resourced to deal with a rebellion in the north that had begun in January.

An alliance of Tuareg separatist and Islamist rebel groups took advantage of the chaos and seized control of the whole of northern Mali - an area larger than France.

France intervened last month to help the Malian army oust the Islamist militants.

"We will organise the elections throughout the national territory in order to reunite the minds of Malians, reunite their hearts, and to enable Mali to remain one and indivisible," Territorial Administration Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly told a news conference in the capital, Bamako, on Thursday.

Last month, Mali's interim President Dioncounda Traore had said he hoped elections would be held on 31 July.

France wants to start withdrawing its 4,000 soldiers from its former colony next month.

Several thousand troops from nearby African nations, including Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Senegal, have already been sent to Mali to retain control of the retaken northern towns and also to take care of security in the south.

But the first suicide attacks in Mali's history in Gao at the end of last week, followed by fierce fighting in the northern town have led to fears it may be a long battle to bring security to the vast desert region.

France would like the African-led mission to become a UN peacekeeping operation as soon as possible.

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