Mali holds legislative vote amid heavy security, highlighting fears of rebel attacks

Malians have begun voting in legislative elections amid heavy security highlighting fears the poll could be sabotaged by rebel attacks.

United Nations peacekeepers and Malian soldiers outnumbered voters in the northern city of Gao after polling stations opened Sunday.

Like the rest of northern Mali, Gao fell to rebel groups including Islamic extremists following a coup in March 2012. A French-led military intervention launched in January drove the rebels from major cities, and Malians elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as president in a peaceful election in August.

However, recent weeks have been marred by violence including the Nov. 2 slaying of two French radio journalists reporting in the northern city of Kidal.

Around 6.5 million people are eligible to vote in elections for 147 seats contested by more than 1,000 candidates.