Arab gunmen shut down Mali's Timbuktu ahead of poll

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GAO, Mali (Reuters) - Armed protesters from Mali's Arab community fired shots into the air, burned tyres and torched vehicles in Timbuktu on Wednesday, bringing the desert city to a standstill days before an election seen as a test of stability across the country, officials said.

The Arab youths, mostly petty traders, were protesting against worsening insecurity in northern Mali, which has been plagued by Islamist violence, Tuareg separatists and intercommunal tensions ever since armed groups took over parts of the region in 2012.

There were no reports of casualties. The West African nation is due to hold presidential elections on Sunday.

"It's deplorable," Timbuktu's mayor Abacrine Cisse told Reuters by telephone. "There are still gunmen in the town disturbing the peace. I've been in touch with all the community leaders to try to resolve this incident," he said.

(Reporting by Cheick Amadou Diouara; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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