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Mali Holds Presidential Election

Voters in Mali have cast their ballots in the west African nation's presidential election. Incumbent President Amadou Toumani Toure is widely expected to win. After presidential elections in Nigeria last week were marked by vote rigging and outbursts of violence, eyes are on Mali's polls for a sign of Africa's democratic health. Kari Barber reports from Mali's capital Bamako.

Voting stations opened in Mali with some confusion, but mostly on time.

Elizabeth Kando with a pan-African election monitoring group came from Burkina Faso to oversee the process. She says no significant problems have been reported.

"As you see all the people, we are just looking for how this can go on best without trouble, and we are hoping all will be OK," Kando says.

As President Toure arrives to vote at an airbase school, he is welcomed by a mass of supporters calling his nickname, ATT.

Mr. Toure told reporters he is hoping for a good turnout and that the elections would be peaceful and free.

Of the eight candidates, Mr. Toure seems a likely favorite among voters. Candidate Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a former prime minister, also led a strong campaign .

University student Maki Traore says he voted to re-elect President Toure.

Traore says he thinks the president will help graduates and alleviate unemployment.

Housekeeper Daite Aminata Goita says she will vote for Mr. Toure too.

Goita says she wants the president to work to improve the lives of children and women and to put efforts into combatting HIV/AIDS in the nation.

But a government worker who prefers to be known only by her first name, Mariam, says she will not vote for Mr. Toure. She says she has no confidence in the government's handling of the election.

"Personally I am going to vote, but I do not think they will take count of my vote really. You know they say 'democracy, democracy,' but is there democracy in Mali, really? I do not think so," Mariam says.

But Mariam says Mali is not likely to see the scale of election problems that besot Nigeria's presidential polls.

"We are a peaceful country. Our culture and our religion makes people be more calm and have more confidence. They always think that God is there and he will work everything out," Mariam says.

Historically, Malian elections have started slowly as voters often head to the polls in the late afternoon when the intense mid-day heat subsides. In past presidential elections about 25 percent of Malians voted.

Mr. Toure toppled long-time president Moussa Traore in a military coup 15 years ago and later won the presidency in democratic elections. President Toure has been credited with development programs have brought roads to rural areas of the country.

If President Toure does not win in the first round for a second five-year term, a second round is scheduled for May 13.