Impoverished but an example for rest of Africa

BAMAKO - Fifteen years after Mali's dictator was toppled in a coup, Malians were voting yesterday in an election expected to be its fourth free and democratic vote for president in a region often marred by vote-rigging and election day violence.

BAMAKO - Fifteen years after Mali's dictator was toppled in a coup, Malians were voting yesterday in an election expected to be its fourth free and democratic vote for president in a region often marred by vote-rigging and election day violence.

Though chronically impoverished, Mali has managed to be a success story for democracy in Africa, where Nigeria's recent election was marked by ballot box-stuffing, vote rigging and eruptions of violence.

As Malians lined up at polling stations throughout the country, many predicted an easy re-election victory for President Amadou Toumani Toure, who needs to defeat seven other candidates to win a second five-year term.

"I've been here since before the polls opened to make sure my candidate - Toure - wins," said an elderly woman, Kadiadou Diarrasso, who waited her turn to vote, a process that in Mali's illiteracy-proof voting system involves dipping her index finger in blue ink and tattooing the space next to the image of her candidate on a ballot containing the photographs of all eight contenders.

Yet even as Malians take pride in their reputation as an African country that has managed to embrace democracy despite poverty and ethnic divisions, some say Toure - who has headed the country since 2002 - has not done enough to improve the lives of those struggling to eke out a living in a country where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. - Sapa-AP

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