Conditions have been met for a credible presidential election in Mali, the head of the European Union observation mission said on Friday, 48 hours ahead of the first round.

Voters will have a choice of 27 candidates as they go to the polls on Sunday for the first time since a separatist uprising led to a coup in March last year, and then a sweeping Islamist offensive which upended one of the region's most stable democracies.

"I believe that these elections can take place in a context and in conditions that are acceptable and do not allow for a distortion or an abuse of the result," Louis Michel told reporters in the capital Bamako.

"I really think the personality who emerges during this election will have more than enough legitimacy," he said.

He noted that the campaign, which ends Friday, had taken place "in a normal atmosphere without violence and without insults".

"The candidates are people of quality who will not lose their control late in the campaign," he said.

Michel said that before his arrival in Mali, he had concerns about its ability to implement the process but he "found a greater capacity than we imagined" on the part of the organisers to get the country ready in time.

One hundred EU observers will be deployed in five of the eight administrative regions of Mali on Sunday but will not go to the restive northern provinces of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal, where tensions remain following a nine-month occupation by armed Islamists last year.

Michel, a Belgian former foreign minister and European commissioner with an extensive knowledge of African politics, said the observation work was being divided between a number of missions, including the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

He acknowledged that it was "embarrassing" that the EU observers would not be present in the north but added that he had taken steps which he hoped would allow him to get into Kidal.

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