Malians have voted in legislative elections surrounded by security because of concerns that rebel attacks may sabotage the poll.

The vote on Sunday is the last step in restoring constitutional rule in Mali after a military coup in March 2012.

Rebel groups including Tuareg separatists and fighters linked to al-Qaeda took control of the country's north in the aftermath of the coup, prompting France to launch a military intervention in January.

UN peacekeepers and Malian soldiers outnumbered voters in the northern city of Gao when polling stations opened, although the number of voters increased later.

However, the turnout appeared to fall short of Mali's peaceful presidential election held in July and August, when Malians elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to lead the country.

Rise in violence 

Seydou Timbely, a prefect, said that that participation had been weak.

"There weren't enough means invested in encouraging the population to come out and vote," Timbely said earlier.

"But we'll be waiting here this afternoon, hoping the people will come.''

Northern Mali has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks underscoring persistent challenges to the region's security.

Several rockets aimed at a military post landed in Gao on Thursday.

A military official said they were the same type of rockets used by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, the group inspired by al-Qaeda that controlled the city last year.

Two Radio France Internationale journalists were killed in the northern city of Kidal on November 2. The lead suspect in that attack has previous ties to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

About 6.7 million people were registered to cast their vote in 25,000 bureaus across the country.

About 1,000 candidates stood for the legislature's 147 seats.

Presidential elections, which that took place in August, brought President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to power and marked the return of democracy to the West African country since the March 2012 coup.

"I came to vote because without a parliament there are no laws, there is no democracy," said 52-year-old Bakary Berthe, who was the first person to vote in the Banakabougou neighbourhood of Bamako.

Ballot stations opened at 0800 GMT and were due to remain open until 1800 GMT. 

Source: Agencies