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The Ivory Coast votes for president after years of turmoil

By the CNN Wire
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo addresses supporters during a rally in Abidjan.
Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo addresses supporters during a rally in Abidjan.
  • The election pits incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo against 13 challengers
  • The Ivory Coast was once one of Africa's success stories
  • A 2002 civil war sparked instability

(CNN) -- Citizens of the Ivory Coast headed to the polls Sunday for a repeatedly delayed presidential election -- the first in a decade for the top cocoa-producing west African nation.

The election pits incumbent Laurent Gbagbo against 13 challengers, including opposition leaders Henri Bedie and Alassane Ouattara.

Ouattara, a former economist for the International Monetary Fund, was banned from previous races. Bedie is seeking a comeback after being ousted in a 1999 coup.

The election also features the nation's first female presidential candidate, Jacquline Oble, who was the youngest minister in the previous Cabinet.

The Ivory Coast was once one of Africa's success stories, but a 2002 civil war plunged the nation into political instability.

Analysts hope the election, which has been delayed for five years, will bring lasting peace.

U.S. envoys applauded the final election date after years of delay.

"The United States is convinced that credible elections are key to resolving Cote d'Ivoire's decade-long crisis and are central to political reconciliation and creating conditions that will result in good governance and economic development," the U.S. Embassy in Abidjan said in a statement. "Political stability and the rule of law are vital building blocks for a prosperous and sustainable future."

The United Nations said it has bolstered its 8,650 troops already there amid reports that local rebels are threatening to disrupt the election.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the nation's citizens are entitled to a fair election.

"The Ivoirian government, the candidates, their supporters, and all political actors have an obligation to ensure that the long-delayed presidential elections are held in a peaceful and transparent manner," Obama said Thursday.

If there's no clear winner, a runoff will be held on November 28, the United Nations said.

The Ivory Coast is the world's largest cocoa bean producer, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization.

CNN's Aliza Kassim contributed to this report.