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Guinea-Bissau holds presidential runoff vote

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Photo - A election official, right, marks a woman's finger, as proof that she cast her ballot at a polling station in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Sunday, May 18, 2014. People in the small country of Guinea-Bissau began casting their ballots in a presidential run-off election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Youssouf Bah)
A election official, right, marks a woman's finger, as proof that she cast her ballot at a polling station in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, Sunday, May 18, 2014. People in the small country of Guinea-Bissau began casting their ballots in a presidential run-off election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Youssouf Bah)
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BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — Long lines formed outside polling stations in Guinea-Bissau on Sunday for a presidential runoff vote intended to restore constitutional order in a country known for coups and unrest.

The vote pits Jose Mario Vaz, whose party won a parliamentary majority in April's first round, against Nuno Gomes Nabiam, who is known for having close ties to military leaders.

More than 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the first round, a statistic observers say indicates the country is eager to move past its instability and begin rebuilding the economy with the help of international donors.

The large crowds on Sunday at polling stations in the capital, Bissau, suggested a similarly healthy turnout for the second round.

"We're voting peacefully in the interests of Guinea-Bissau and our future," said 59-year-old Seni Mane as he voted at the same station where the candidates later cast their ballots.

"We don't want anybody who is going to support the military again, and we will discourage any coup d'etat in this country," he added.

A similar runoff vote was derailed two years ago when the military arrested the prime minister who was then the leading presidential candidate. The junta soon agreed to hand power to a caretaker president, Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo, who has led the nation of 1.7 million to these elections.

Military leaders including army chief Antonio Indjai are concerned about what might happen should Vaz come to power and would prefer a Nabiam victory, said International Crisis Group analyst Vincent Foucher.

Nabiam, who came in second in April with about 25 percent of the vote, has close relationships with military leaders including Indjai, who was indicted by the U.S. last year on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and aid Colombia's FARC rebels.

Reforming the military will be a priority for the new president, a process that could see shake-ups at the top, Foucher said.

However, military leaders and Nabiam have vowed to respect the result. "The people of Bissau are going to vote for me, not the military," Nabiam said after voting Sunday. "The military alone cannot put me in office. I am ready to accept the result if defeated."

The military is not expected to interfere in this election regardless of the result, Foucher said.

"They are tired and divided. The idea of another coup is not very popular," he said. "They realize that having a coup is very bad for Guinea-Bissau's name."

There was one report of the military acting up on Sunday, however. After he voted in Bissau, Vaz told journalists that soldiers in the central town of Bafata had on Saturday night nearly beaten to death a lawmaker from his PAIGC party.

Vaz denounced the attack as "barbaric" and "unacceptable."

On the eve of Sunday's vote, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement calling for high voter turnout and commending the "peaceful and orderly" campaign. He said he had placed calls to both candidates Saturday and was confident they would "be guided by the best interest of the country."

Whoever wins will face the daunting task of jumpstarting the economy and winning over civil servants who have been paid erratically if at all in recent months. But the new leader is expected to benefit from renewed engagement from international donors, who have largely stayed away since the 2012 vote was scrapped.

No elected leader has completed a full term since Guinea-Bissau won independence in 1974.

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