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3rd place Mali candidate backs front-runner

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BABA AHMED | August 3, 2013 02:53 PM EST | AP

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BAMAKO, Mali — The third-place finisher in Mali's presidential election threw his support behind the front-runner Saturday, an unexpected endorsement that could substantially improve the leading candidate's chances in the upcoming runoff vote.

Dramane Dembele, the candidate of the country's largest political party, ADEMA-PASJ, said Saturday that he would be backing Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known by his initials, "IBK."

"Dembele is not a political heavyweight, he's new to Malian voters," said political analyst Moumouni Soumano. "But his call could be important for IBK because it opens the doors to the ADEMA supporters who want to vote for IBK."

Many observers had expected Dembele to support the second-place finisher, Soumaila Cisse, who has considerable support from Dembele's party. However, Dembele told reporters Saturday that he felt betrayed by his party and would not be backing Cisse in the Aug. 11 runoff.

"ADEMA is better established in the country than the other parties ... I was betrayed because the at least 10 percent of the vote that I had did not reflect the weight of the party," he said.

According to official results released by the government, Dembele received 9.6 percent of the total ballots cast in the first round of voting on July 28. By comparison, Keita took 39.2 percent while Cisse garnered 19.4 percent in the election that fielded 28 candidates.

Mali's presidential election comes 16 months after the democratically elected president of the country was overthrown in a coup. The French military later launched an operation across northern Mali to oust al-Qaida-linked militants who gained control of the region in the chaotic aftermath of the government's overthrow.

While the first round of voting was peaceful, many fear it could be viewed as illegitimate because of low voter turnout. Technical glitches prevented some people from voting, and if the results are not accepted, observers say it could fuel future unrest.

Donors have pledged more than $4 billion in aid for the country's reconstruction but it is on hold until a legitimately elected government can be put in place. The financial incentive prompted Malian authorities to go ahead with the poll despite concerns about security and how tens of thousands of displaced Malians would vote.