Mali lifts state of emergency ahead of election campaigning

The state of emergency ended at midnight. It had been in place since January, when France launched a military intervention against Islamist militants and Tuareg rebels in the north of the country.

Demonstrations, rallies and concerts had been banned under the decree. Some electoral rallies are expected later Saturday, although official campaigning begins on Sunday.

The European Union has launched its observation mission for the upcoming election, and deployed 20 observers.

"It is crucial that the presidential election goes well, not only to provide legitimacy to the (new) president but also for the stability of the region," said European MP Louis Michel, the mission chief.

"Europe is in the front line of the collateral risks implied by instability in this region," he added.

The EU observers will work alongside 150 observers from the African Union.

28 candidates are running for president, including four former prime ministers and one woman.

The relaxation of the emergency rules come after the Malian army on Friday peacefully entered the last rebel-controlled major town in the country.

Accompanied by French soldiers and United Nations officials, 200 Malian military and gendarmes entered Kidal in the far northeast.

The two Tuareg rebel groups controlling the town had already agreed to remain in barracks and lay down arms for the duration of the election campaign.

The distribution of 6.7-million voters' cards has begun in town halls and schools around the country.

According to Mali's Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), at least 1.1-million potential voters are missing from the roll, including 300 000 people aged 18 and 19.

CENI also says that, because they have moved or been displaced by the war, about 800 000 people will not be able to collect their cards as these have been sent to the localities where people registered as far back as 2009.

One political party, Parena, says it will on Monday launch an application in the Constitutional Court for the elections to be postponed. – Sapa

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