Benin election attracts large turnout


PORTO NOVO, Benin -- Anxious voters lined up before dawn yesterday morning in front of polling stations here and across Benin to cast ballots in this tiny nation's first free presidential elections in nearly three decades.

The head of the republic's election commission said last night that no official results would be reported until tomorrow.

According to unofficial reports, the turnout among the 2 million eligible voters was high, as much as 80 percent in some places. Altogether, there are about 4 million people in this country, which about the size of Kentucky. Benin changed its name from Dahomey in 1975.

A second round of voting will be held on March 24 if none of the 13candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Most political commentators think that the prime minister, Nicephore Soglo, a former senior official of the World Bank who helped engineer Benin's transition from strict Marxist orthodoxy to a multiparty democracy, will easily finish first. A coalition of Mr. Soglo's backers won 11 of 64 seats in parliamentary elections last month.

Mr. Soglo's main rival is Benin's current president, Mathieu Kerekou, a former military commander who seized power in 1972.

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