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US urges Malians to flock to the polls

Supporters of Malian presidential candidate Dramane Dembele put up posters on July 25, 2013 in Gao
Supporters of Malian presidential candidate Dramane Dembele put up posters on July 25, 2013 in Gao. The United States on Thursday urged Malians to vote in weekend elections, including in the restive northeast, and said it would have observers on the groun

The United States on Thursday urged Malians to vote in weekend elections, including in the restive northeast, and said it would have observers on the ground to monitor the polls.

"We encourage all Malians to take full advantage of this opportunity to express their will through the ballot box and to remain peacefully engaged in the political process as we approach election day," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

US officials expect that "all voters throughout the entirety of Mali" will be able to cast their ballots on Sunday -- in the first elections since a military coup in March 2012.

Harf said the United States had also been "encouraged" by the return of Malian civil administrators to the north, including the former rebel stronghold of Kidal.

A ceasefire deal last month with the rebel group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, allowed Malian troops to enter the town to ensure security ahead of the elections.

The ceasefire has largely been respected, although the town has been the scene of recent violent pro- and anti-army protests and clashes between black Malians and the lighter-skinned Tuareg community which left four people dead.

Some 58 American observers will take part in monitoring Sunday's elections, which the transitional government hopes will pave the way to full reunification.

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