BAMAKO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Mali will hold a presidential election on July 7, a key step aimed at stabilising the country following the French-led military intervention that has ousted Islamist rebels from the main northern towns, the government said on Thursday.
Following the recapture late last month by French and Malian troops of the biggest northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu, interim President Dioncounda Traore had announced that his government would hold national elections by July 31.
The holding of credible elections is a key demand of Western governments which have backed France's intervention in its former Sahel colony as a blow against al Qaeda-allied jihadists seeking to carry out attacks in the region and in the West.
"The first round of the presidential election will be on the first Sunday in July," Mali's Territorial Administration Minister Moussa Sinko Coulibaly told a news conference in the capital Bamako.
To win in the first round, a candidate will need to gain more than 50 percent of the votes, otherwise a second round run-off will be required between the leading contenders.
Legislative elections would be held on July 21, along with a second round of the presidential vote if this run-off was required, Coulibaly said.
Traore was appointed interim head of state last year after the military junta which seized power in a March 22 coup in the West African state handed over to a civilian administration.
But the coup leaders have continued to meddle in state affairs, increasing foreign calls for a legitimate civilian government to be installed through free and fair elections.
Around 4,000 French troops, backed by the Malian army and several thousand troops from other African states, have driven the al Qaeda-linked Islamist alliance from Mali's main northern towns into the remote northeast mountains.
But Islamist insurgent suicide bombings and a rebel raid last Sunday in the Saharan town of Gao have raised fears of the French becoming bogged down in an arduous counter-insurgency war in Mali. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Sophie Hares)