By The Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Campaigning for the July 29 presidential election has begun in Mali as the deadly threat from extremists linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group becomes a central issue.

President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita seeks another term and his closest competitor is opposition leader and former finance minister Soumaila Cisse, who lost to Keita in the 2013 vote. There are 24 presidential candidates in all.

Mali’s riot security forces running battles with opposition activist during a prohibited march in Bamako, Mali, Saturday, June. 2, 2018. An organizer says many people have been injured in clashes between Mali’s security forces and opposition supporters during a prohibited march ahead of elections.(AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)

The West African nation has seen a series of deadly extremist attacks in recent weeks, including one on the headquarters of a new five-nation regional counterterror force, the G5 Sahel.

Malian security forces have been accused by human rights groups of abuses against civilians during counterterror operations as tensions rise in the central region between civilian militias and ethnic Fulani suspected of being recruited by extremists.