Cyprus' presidential election looks likely to trigger a run-off poll next weekend. Initial exit returns had suggested a win for the opposition conservative Nicos Anastasiades, an outcome awaited by international lenders.
A revised count of Sunday's Cypriot election put the 66-year-old Cypriot lawyer Anastasiades, who leads the right-wing opposition DISY party, on 45 percent.
He was out front but short of the 51 percent first suggested by state television exit polls. That initial trend, which had Anastasiades headed for an outright win, failed to eventuate.
Later, with 94 percent of votes counted, Anastasiades' nearest challenger on 27 percent was Stavros Malas, 45, a British-educated independent who had been backed by the AKEL communist party. A run-off election between Anastasiades and Malas appears likely on February 24.
The updated figures put former foreign minister George Lillikas in third place, on about 25 percent. He had been supported by the small socialist party EDEK.
Lillikas had rejected an international bailout, saying it would plunge the country into spiraling recession. Instead, he had wanted to sell untapped offshore gas reserves in advance.
Anastasiades had pledged a quick agreement with the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a financial bailout for the recession-hit EU member state during campaigning. While voting on Sunday in the port city of Limassol, he said: "It is the survival of our country which is at stake."
Economic crisis dominated election
Outgoing leftist-rooted President Demetris Christofias, who did not stand for re-election, had sought the bailout for the eastern Mediterannean island nation last June to avoid a financial crash and ease Cyprus' worst economic crisis in four decades.
Talks dragged out late last year as Cyprus resisted pressure to agreed to measures such as privatizations and close scrutiny of its banking sector from potential lenders: the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
On the political front, the international community is also likely to expect that the next president will pick up the pieces of a deadlocked UN push for reunification.
Cyprus, which gained independence from Britain in 1960, has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops seized its northern third in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
In 2004, Anastasiades supported a failed "Yes" vote for a UN reunification blueprint, even though it was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots. That resulted, however, in the divided island joining the EU and adopting the euro joint currency.
A total of 11 candidates, including two women, had stood in Sunday's presidential election.
ipj/mkg (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
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