BAMAKO The architect of a peace deal between Mali's government and northern separatist rebels pulled out of this month's presidential election on Wednesday after failing to have the July 28 vote postponed.
Former minister Tiebile Drame has complained of French pressure to hold a vote that he says cannot be free and fair so soon after a war to liberate northern Mali from a mix of Tuareg separatists and al Qaeda-linked rebels.
France, which intervened dramatically in January to destroy the Islamist enclave in northern Mali, has led calls from Western powers for the vote to go ahead on time.
Advocacy groups warn, however, that a botched and contested vote risks leading to another crisis.
Drame, the lead government negotiator in last month's ceasefire deal with Tuaregs which allowed the elections to go ahead, said Mali's top court had failed to respond to his legal request to have the vote delayed.
"As a result, we have decided to withdraw not only the court case but also (my candidacy)," he told reporters.
Drame says that in the rush to organize the vote on time, Mali's own electoral laws have been broken so the vote would be illegal. Drame did not call on his supporters to boycott the vote.
Diplomats, led by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, have called on candidates to accept the results despite the strong potential for an "imperfect" electoral process.
Two of Mali's main parties said on Tuesday they would honor the outcome of the election even though it was likely to be marred by technical problems.
With just under two weeks to go until the ballot, interior ministry officials have said that 68 percent of Mali's 6.9 million registered voters have received their voting cards.
France still has more than 3,000 soldiers in Mali but Paris is keen to hand responsibility over to a U.N. peacekeeping force, which is rolling out. The mission will have 12,600 soldiers and policemen once fully deployed.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Michael Roddy)