Mali's interim leader, Dioncounda Traore. File photo: AFP

Washington - Africans generally approve of France's military intervention to help drive Islamists out of northern Mali, while Middle Easterners are opposed, according to a survey released on Thursday.

The Pew Research Centre poll was timed to coincide with elections on Sunday to choose a new Malian president after more than a year of turmoil following a coup, a separatist uprising in the north and a short-lived but brutal Islamist regime there.

The vote is seen as crucial to reuniting a country riven by conflict during the 18-month crisis, which saw France send 4 500 troops in January to stop Islamists from advancing towards the capital Bamako.

Respondents in Senegal, Mali's neighbour to the west and another former French colony, were most favourable to the intervention, with 91 percent approving compared to just five percent disapproving.

Africans from six countries - Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda - tended towards positive responses to the intervention, with a median of 41 percent in favour compared to 22 percent disapproving.

In contrast, a median of just 12 percent of respondents from six Middle Eastern countries and territories - Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia and Turkey - approved of France's role in Mali, compared to 68 percent who disapproved.

Turks were the most strenuously opposed, with three percent approving compared to 70 percent disapproving.

In France, 62 percent of those polled approved of the military operation, undertaken in cooperation with the African Union, compared to 38 percent who said they were against it.

The survey also revealed that the image of the former colonial power is better in sub-Saharan Africa than in Turkey and the Arab countries, where France's popularity has plummeted since Pew last polled on the question in 2005 and 2006.

More than half of those polled in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Senegal - including more than eight in 10 Senegalese - hold favourable views of France.

Ugandans responded least favourably, with just four in 10 giving a positive response, but nearly half of those polled did not reply to the question at all.

In contrast, more than half of those in Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian territories and Turkey - including fully 73 percent of Turks - hold unfavourable views of France.

Lebanon, another former French colony, was split nearly down the middle, with 48 percent unfavourable and 51 percent favourable towards France, a 33 percent drop from 2005.

Despite their disapproval of the French military incursion in Mali, 63 percent of Tunisians hold a favourable impression of their former colonial rulers.

The poll was conducted in March and April among 1 000 people in each country. - Sapa-AFP