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Right-wing front-runner ahead in Cyprus election

A man leaves the polling booth as he votes in the Presidential election in southern port city of Limassol, Cyprus, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. 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. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) -- The right-wing front-runner in Cyprus' presidential election held a strong lead in Sunday's voting, according to exit polls and early official results, but it was unclear if he had enough votes to win outright without need for a runoff.

The new president will be charged with leading Cyprus through a financial crisis and to secure an international rescue package for the country to stay solvent.

For an outright victory a candidate needs at least 50 percent plus one vote of the ballots cast. Otherwise, the top two candidates go to a runoff the following weekend.

Nicos Anastasiades was well ahead of rivals Stavros Malas and Giorgos Lillikas who were running neck-and-neck for second place. With 50 percent of the vote counted, Anastasiades had 44.9 percent, Malas had 27.23 percent and Lillikas was close behind with 25.2 percent.

The change in leadership, after outgoing communist-rooted President Dimitris Christofias said he would not seek re-election, 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.