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A cercle is the second level administrative unit in Mali. Mali is divided into eight régions and one capital district (Bamako); the régions are subdivided into 49 cercles. These subdivisions bear the name of their principal city.
During French colonial rule in Mali, a cercle was the smallest unit of French political administration that was headed by a European officer. A cercle consisted of several cantons, each of which in turn consisted of several villages. In 1887 the Cercle of Bafoulabé was the first cercle to be created in Mali. In most of former French West Africa, the term cercle was changed to Prefecture or Department after independence, but this was not done in Mali.
Some cercles (and the district) were, prior to the 1999 local government reorganisation, further divided into Arrondissements, especially in urban areas or the vast northern regions (such as Kidal), which consisted of a collection of Communes. Since these reforms, cercles are now directly subdivided into rural and urban communes, which in turn are divided in Quartiers (Quarters, or Villages and encampments in rural areas) which have elected councils at each level. There are 703 communes, 36 urban communes (including 6 in Bamako District) and 667 rural communes. The cercles are listed below.
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