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Keita set to reunite Mali after poll rival concedes defeat

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Mali's president-elect Ibrahim Boubacar Keita began the daunting task Tuesday of planning the country's recovery from political crisis, a military coup and war after his rival conceded defeat at the polls.

Official results from the nationwide vote have not been announced, but Somaila Cisse congratulated Keita, 68, on his victory late Monday after electoral sources revealed that the former premier was comfortably ahead with two-thirds of Sunday's votes counted.

Mali's first election since 2007 was seen as crucial for unlocking more than $4 billion (three billion euros) pledged by international donors who halted aid in the wake of last year's coup, which ignited an Islamist insurgency and a French military offensive.

The government has until Friday to make public the result of the run-off vote, called after none of the 27 candidates in the first round on July 28 secured an outright majority.

But a source close to Mali's election commission said that with nearly two-thirds of ballots counted, Keita was "well ahead", while unofficial estimates obtained from Malian security sources also put him in the lead.

One of Cisse's aides told AFP that the former finance minister had decided to admit defeat after it became apparent as early as Monday morning that victory was beyond his grasp.

"I went to see him to congratulate him and wish him good luck for Mali," Cisse told AFP.

Keita, who has yet to comment publicly on his victory, has become known for his blunt speech, his refusal to compromise and his reputation for toughness.

During his campaign, he vowed to unify Mali after its humiliation in having to call on former colonial power France to help repel the Islamist insurgency in the north, where Al-Qaeda-linked movements seized key towns.

"For Mali's honour, I will bring peace and security. I will revive dialogue between all the sons of our nation and I will gather our people around the values that have built our history: dignity, integrity, courage and hard work," Keita has said.

Cisse, 63, had complained of widespread electoral fraud before conceding defeat but told reporters Tuesday he would not challenge the result in court "in view of the fragility of the country".

The European Union observer mission gave a positive assessment of the vote, saying it complied with international standards in 99 percent of polling stations.

"Whoever is elected will be elected with democratic legitimacy. That is my belief," mission chief Louis Michel told reporters, saying there had been "a leap forward in terms of democracy in this country".

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton welcomed "a credible and transparent" election, while French President Francois Hollande said the vote was a victory for democracy and vowed France would "stand by" the west African country.

A source in Hollande's office said he would travel to Mali to attend Keita's inauguration in September.

"What has happened since the French intervention... up to the election of a new Malian president is a success for peace and democracy," Hollande said.

Tthe United States meanwhile has signalled that it was prepared to resume aid to Mali following the election.

Keita and Cisse lost out in 2002 to Amadou Toumani Toure, a respected former general who was overthrown by a military junta in March last year just weeks before the end of his final term in office.

A return to democratic rule will allow France to withdraw most of the 4,500 troops it sent to Mali in January to oust Al-Qaeda-linked extremists who had occupied the north in the chaos that followed the coup.

A UN peacekeeping mission of 11,200 troops and 1,400 police has been charged with ensuring security in the months after the election.

Keita's workload will include tackling an economy battered by the crisis, as well as healing ethnic divisions in the north and managing the return of 500,000 people who were internally displaced or fled abroad during the conflict.

The country of more than 14 million people remains Africa's third-largest gold producer, but its $10.6 billion economy contracted by 1.2 percent last year.

Widespread poverty has contributed to unrest in the desert north, with several armed groups vying for control in the vacuum left when the Islamists fled.

The region is home predominantly to lighter-skinned Tuareg and Arab populations who accuse the sub-Saharan ethnic groups that live in the more prosperous south of marginalising them.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130813/keita-set-reunite-mali-after-poll-rival-concedes-defeat-1