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Key facts on Mali

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Mali, which holds the first round of its presidential election on July 28, is a landlocked, impoverished state in west Africa:

- GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION: Mali, a largely desert country which is crossed by the Niger River, is 1,240,000 square kilometres (478,800 square miles) in area, and is bordered by seven countries.

- POPULATION: 14.85 million in 2012 (World Bank). Divided into 20 ethnic groups, including the Bambara, Fulani, Marka, Senufo, Soninke, Tuareg, Songhai, Malinke and Dogon.

- CAPITAL: Bamako.

- LANGUAGES: French is the official language.

- RELIGION: Muslim (90 percent), Christian (10 percent).

- HISTORY: Formerly a French colony, Mali gained independence on June 20, 1960. The country was run by president Modibo Keita until a coup d'etat in 1968 led by Moussa Traore.

After more than 22 years in power, Traore's regime was overthrown by an armed insurrection in March 1991 in which dozens were killed.

A Transitional Committee, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Amadou Toumani Toure, ran the country from 1991 until elections in 1992 when Alpha Oumar Konare became the first democratically elected president. He stepped down at the end of two five-year terms in 2002.

Toure then ran for election as an independent and won in 2002. He was reelected in 2007.

On March 22, 2012 mutinous soldiers led by Captain Amadou Sanogo announced they had overthrown the Toure government, saying it had failed to give the armed forces the means to defeat a rebellion by Tuareg rebels and Islamists in the north.

The junta and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) then announced a deal that included democratic elections. At the same time the Tuaregs and Islamist groups allied to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb occupied the north, declaring independence in the region. Islamists then overcame the Tuaregs to take over the north, applying an extreme form of Islamic law.

On January 11 France intervened militarily to help the armies of Mali and other African armies recapture the north, largely driving out the Islamists.

On July 1 United Nations peacekeeping force MINUSMA took over security duties from African troops.

- ECONOMY and RESOURCES: Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than half of its population living in poverty.

The country's crisis has had enormous economic and social consequences, especially in Bamako, where unemployment and inflation are soaring.

Mali has several gold mines and is also one of the largest producers of cotton in sub-Saharan Africa. Before the crisis, tourism was an essential foreign currency earner.

- GNP: $660 per capita in 2012 (World Bank).

- ARMED FORCES: 7,350 men in 2013. 4,800 paramilitaries (IISS).

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130721/key-facts-mali