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Cyprus Chooses President as Bailout Deal Looms

By Menelaos Hadjicostis

NICOSIA, Cyprus -- Cypriots are voting Sunday for a new president who must tackle a financial crisis that has forced the country to seek international rescue money to stay solvent.

The change in leadership comes at a crucial juncture for Cyprus as the other 16 countries that use the euro are expected to decide next month on a financial lifeline for the tiny country of less than a million people.

Cyprus is fast running out of cash to pay its bills and the new president faces the difficult task of overcoming skepticism from some bailout-weary euro area countries to secure help.

Right-wing opposition leader Nicos Anastasiades has led opinion polls over his two main rivals, left-wing Stavros Malas and independent Giorgos Lillikas going into Sunday's vote.

The winner will succeed deeply unpopular communist-rooted Dimitris Christofias, who is honoring a pledge not to seek a second five-year term if his negotiations with breakaway Turkish Cypriots to reunify the country failed.

Polls indicate that no candidate will get more than half of the votes cast on Sunday, which will force the top two candidates into a runoff a week later.

Anastasiades, who leads the Democratic Rally party, urged voters to look beyond partisan lines when casting their ballot.

"Above all else, we must all unite forces, to counter this economic crisis which unfortunately our homeland has never experienced before," he said after voting.

Malas, who is backed by the communist-rooted AKEL party, urged voters not to turn their backs to what he called the most crucial election in the country's history.

Lillikas said the election is a choice between the old and the new.

"Citizens will decide whether we'll return to practices of the past which led us to this economic crisis, have disappointed them and discredited politics, or they'll chose something new to move the country forward," Lillikas told reporters.

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