Cisse concedes, congratulates Keita for winning Mali vote
BAMAKO (Reuters) - Soumaila Cisse on Monday conceded defeat in Mali's presidential election runoff, congratulating his rival Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on winning a vote meant to draw a line under more than a year of turmoil in the West African nation.
Cisse's concession, hours after he complained the election had been marred by fraud, will deepen optimism for Mali's recovery. Keita, a former prime minister, inherits a broken nation and must still negotiate peace with northern rebels.
"My family and I went and congratulated Mr Keita, the future president of Mali, on his victory. May God bless Mali," Cisse, a former finance minister, said on his official Twitter feed.
Keita had been widely expected to win Sunday's vote, having swept the July 28 first round with nearly 40 percent of votes on a ticket to restore order after a March 2012 military coup allowed Islamist and separatist rebels to seize control of the northern two-thirds of Mali.
Cisse said earlier on Monday that the vote had been marred by fraud and intimidation. However, international and local observers said that, despite small irregularities, the process had been credible.
"This election, from a democratic standards point of view, is a success," said the head of a European Union observer mission, Louis Michel.
"It is an election that allows Mali now to start finishing the process that it has begun: the return to a normal democracy."
France sent thousands of troops in January to break the al Qaeda-linked rebels' grip on northern Mali.
Paris now aims to draw down its contingent to a rapid response team of 1,000 troops to face the scattered Islamist threat, while handing broader security duties to a 12,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission being deployed.
Keita received the backing of 22 of the 25 losing first round candidates.
Diplomats now hope a clean election will give him a strong mandate to negotiate a lasting peace with northern Tuareg separatists, reform the army and tackle deep-rooted graft.
"This was an important stage in the transition in Mali towards peace and reconciliation," U.N. Special Representative for Mali Bert Koenders said. "There were small imperfections ... but the lack of violence was impressive in a country which has just emerged from conflict."
MUJWA, one of three Islamist groups which seized control of northern Mali last year, had threatened to carry out attacks on polling stations in northern Mali before the July 28 first round but the electoral process passed off without any violence.
(Additional reporting by Adama Diarra; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Eric Walsh)