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Benin votes for Kerekou successor amid fraud claims

Written by: Staff
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COTONOU, March 5 (Reuters) Benin voted today for a successor to President Mathieu Kerekou, in power for all but five of the past 33 years, but the former military ruler said the poll would not be transparent after claims of vote-rigging.

Some candidates say electoral officials have undermined checks and balances intended to fight fraud and one leading candidate accused the head of the electoral commission of trying to prevent his representatives from monitoring polling stations.

The former army major first seized power in a military coup in late 1972 and guided the cotton-exporting country to democracy, being voted out of power at one point in the process.

He is barred by the constitution from standing again.

With no heir apparent and 26 candidates vying to replace him, no one is expected to win 50 percent, making a second round likely in two weeks' time.

''Today is a celebration,'' Kerekou said after voting in the Zongo district of the main city Cotonou. ''However, it is important for me to say these elections will not be totally transparent.

Everybody knows it, but nobody says it.'' Various candidates have denounced attempts to rig the vote.

The Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA) has acknowledged administrative problems, such as underestimating the number of polling stations, but has dismissed the gravest accusation, that it had somehow lost 1.3 million voting papers.

More than 4 million people are eligible to vote from among the 7.5 million people living in Benin, a small country sandwiched between Togo and regional giant Nigeria.

More Reuters CH DB2345

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