(AFP)BAMAKO: Mali voted on Sunday for a president expected to usher in a new dawn of peace and stability in the first election since a military coup upended one of the region?s most solid democracies.

Voters chose from 27 candidates to lead the nation from the crisis ignited by last year?s mutiny, which allowed Islamists to seize the vast desert north before a French-led military intervention dislodged them earlier this year.

Preliminary results collated by journalists in polling stations after end of voting suggested that former premier Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had taken a clear early lead.

The unofficial projection, based on the accounts of reporters watching counts across the country, indicate that Keita, 69, could even cause an upset and win the first round outright.

Voting stations opened at 8am (0800 GMT) under heavy security. On Saturday, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the main armed groups linked to al-Qaida in northern Mali (AQIM), said Saturday it would ?strike? polling stations.

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