Mali votes in presidential election run-off

People attend an election rally in Bamako (9 August 2013) The UN has stressed the importance of the presidential election

People in Mali made their way through heavy rain on Sunday to vote in a presidential election run-off aimed at restoring democracy and stability after more than a year of turmoil.

Ex-PM Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who won 40% in the first round, faced ex-Finance Minister Soumaila Cisse.

In the past year, Mali has seen a coup and a French-led military intervention to oust Islamist rebels from the north.

Polls closed at 18:00 GMT and the result is expected by Friday.

The victor will oversee more than $4bn (£2.6bn) in foreign aid promised to rebuild the West African state.

A 12,600-strong United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Mali (Minusma) is currently deploying, as France begins to withdraw its 3,000 troops.

The UN has stressed the importance of the election to the restoration of constitutional order and the start of national dialogue and reconciliation.

Peace talks

Mali's 21,000 polling stations opened at 08:00 GMT.

After he voted in the capital, Bamako, Mr Keita said: "People are saying: 'Will the turnout be what we hope?' But I am certain it will be. And the rain here is a blessing and a good sign.

"Whatever the decision of the ballot box, Mali has already won."

Mali run-off

L: Soumaila Cisse R: Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (R):

  • Aged 68, served as prime minister from 1994 to 2000
  • Won 39.2% of the vote in the first round
  • Running for his Rally for Mali (RPM) party under the slogan "For Mali's honour"

Soumaila Cisse (L):

  • Aged 63, served as finance minister from 1993 to 2000
  • Won 19.4% of the vote in the first round
  • Running for his Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) party and is a declared opponent of the junta behind the March 2012 coup

Mr Cisse said he would respect the outcome if he lost.

"I have submitted myself to the verdict of the ballot box long before today," he said.

"I'm proud of our people who have, in such a short time, put us on a path back to the republic and to democracy."

One voter, Moussa Tahirou Maiga, told the Associated Press that Mr Keita had "shown his patriotism", adding: "He's viewed here as the man who can change a lot of things."

But another, Oumar Couilbaly, said: "Cisse's plans are more detailed and more coherent. That's why I'm voting for him."

A record 49% of the 6.8 million registered voters cast a ballot in first round on 28 July.

Mr Cisse, who was second among the 27 candidates with 19.7% of the vote, complained that there had been widespread fraud, with more than 400,000 ballots declared spoiled.

However, Mali's Constitutional Court rejected the allegations and the head of the EU election observer mission, Louis Michel, praised the electoral process for its transparency.

Ahead of Sunday's second round, Mr Michel said he had been "positively surprised" by preparations.

Mr Keita - who is popularly known by his initials, "IBK" - has urged voters to give him what he called a "clear and clean" majority in the run-off.

Voting in Bamako, 11 August Much of the voting took place in heavy rain
Ex-PM Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, 11 Aug Ex-PM Ibrahim Boubacar Keita cast his vote in Bamako...
Soumaila Cisse in Bamako, 11 Aug ...as did rival Soumaila Cisse
Voting in Bamako, 11 August The victor will oversee more than $4bn (£2.6bn) in foreign aid promised to rebuild the West African state
Voting in Bamako, 11 August In the past year, Mali has seen a coup and a French-led military intervention to oust Islamist rebels from the north

The 68-year-old has the support of influential moderate Islamic leaders, and 22 of the 25 losing first-round candidates have given him their backing.

Mr Cisse, 63, has run on pledges to improve education, create jobs and reform the army. He has been more openly critical of the leaders of last year's military coup than Mr Keita.

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge says a ceasefire that is allowing voting to take place in northern Mali also obliges a new government to open peace talks with the separatist Tuareg rebels within two months.

Much is therefore at stake in the election, not least its potential to unlock billions of dollars in aid promised by international donors, he adds.

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