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Voters in Mali Choose President Sunday

Voters in Mali head to the polls Sunday to choose a president that most hope will lead the country out of 18 months of civil strife and political crisis.

Former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita faces off against former finance minister Soumalia Cisse in a runoff contest that many analysts are describing as a potential turning point for the West African nation.

Keita dominated the first round of voting July 28 with nearly 40 percent of the vote, while Cisse pulled just under 20 percent. Since the July 28 polls, most of the 25 other candidates eliminated in the first round have thrown their support to Keita, including the third place finisher .

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 a military coup last year plunged the country into chaos.

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 last year in the military uprising. 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 the capital, Bamako, prompted former colonial power France to deploy troops earlier this year to push the Islamists back into desert areas.

A United Nations peacekeeping force of 12,000 troops began providing national security in July, as the last of the French force continues preparations to leave the country by the end of the year,.