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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 22:33 GMT
Benin votes for a new president
Benin President Mathieu Kerekou
Mathieu Kerekou is bowing out after making his mark on Benin
Votes are being counted in the presidential election in the West African state of Benin.

Polling continued late into the night after administrative problems caused delays in a number of districts.

There have been no reports of unrest, and international observers praised people's discipline in an election seen as a key moment in Benin's history.

Four million were eligible to vote to replace Mathieu Kerekou, in power for all but five years since 1972.

A constitutional age limit of 70 barred both Mr Kerekou and his chief rival Nicephore Soglo from standing.

With 26 candidates in the race, the vote seems certain to go to a second round.

"We're going to have change," university student Carolle Assankpon told the Associated Press news agency in Cotonou, the main city.

"We're going to have a new chief."

Fraud fears

Voting was delayed in some areas as polling stations waited for equipment to be delivered or officials to appear but no serious incidents were noted.

Adrien Houngbedji, Bruno Amoussou and Yayi Boni are seen as the favourites.

Mr Boni's camp accused the election body of irregularities on the eve of the election, speaking of "missing voting materials, late opening of polling stations and inflated voter lists".

President Kerekou said he expected attempts to rig the vote and suggested it might be months before the result of the first round is known.

"The elections, which we had hoped would be transparent, will not be," he told reporters as he voted in Cotonou.

"If necessary it will take three or four months to check the results, like in the United States."

Mr Kerekou came to power as a Marxist but eventually opened up his country to multi-party democracy.

Mr Soglo was president for five years in the 1990s.

Benin is one of the 20 least developed countries in the world.


SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Benin votes
01 Mar 06 |  Africa
Benin's 'magical' leader
20 Aug 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Benin
01 Feb 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Benin
09 Dec 05 |  Country profiles


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