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Mali Counts Votes After Presidential Runoff

Election officials in Mali have begun counting ballots in a runoff presidential vote to choose who will lead the country as it seeks to move on from 18 months of unrest and political turmoil.

Voters cast their ballots Sunday, and authorities have until Friday to announce the official result.

The election put former Malian prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita against former finance minister Soumalia Cisse after neither candidate earned enough votes in the first round of balloting last month. Keita won almost 40 percent of the July 28 vote, while Cisse earned about 20 percent.

The head of the European Union election monitoring team in Mali, Louis Michel, said Sunday's vote "went well" and that his observers did not see anything suspect.

Heavy rain in the capital, Bamako, dampened the turnout Sunday morning, but the weather improved in the afternoon, prompting more voters to head to polling stations.

Keita is nationalist from southern Mali. Most of the 25 candidates eliminated in the first round of voting endorsed him for the runoff, including the third place finisher .

Cisse is a technocrat from the northern desert town of Timbuktu. His campaign has focused on economic recovery.

Keita and Cisse served together in a government in the 1990s, but ended up in opposing camps following the 2002 presidential win by Amadou Toumani Toure, who was overthrown in a March 2012 military coup.

The election - the country's first since 2007 - is seen as crucial to unlocking nearly $4 billion in promised international aid that was suspended after the coup last year plunged the country into chaos.

In the chaos that followed, ethnic Tuareg separatists seized towns and cities in Mali's northern desert with the help of several Islamist groups.

Those seizures and Islamist threats to Bamako prompted former colonial power France to deploy troops earlier this year to push the Islamists back into desert areas.

A U.N. peacekeeping force of 12,000 troops began providing security to Mali in July, as the last of the French forces continued preparations to leave the country by the end of the year.