March 15, 2011 / 11:44 AM / in 8 years

Benin rival camps claim presidential vote win

* Electoral commission to publish results this week

* Dispute not expected to erupt into widespread violence

COTONOU, March 15 (Reuters) - The two main rival camps in Benin’s presidential election have each claimed victory in last weekend’s vote, raising concerns of another election dispute in West Africa.

Incumbent president Boni Yayi, 58, faced 14 challengers led by veteran politician Adrien Houngbedji, 69, in Sunday’s election. Yayi beat Houngbedji a 2006 runoff.

A top regional cotton producer with a population of 9 million, Benin is one of the few countries in Africa’s “coup belt” to have successfully held free and fair elections, winning international praise.

Benin’s national electoral commission is expected to publish results later this week. Rival camps have each published results which showed them leading the vote count.

However, few expect any dispute over the poll to trigger protracted stalemate and violence, as in nearby Ivory Coast, where an election row has degenerated into armed conflict.

Yayi’s camp said the incumbent president was leading with a large margin in the first round.

“Given results taken directly from polling stations, a second round is hard to imagine,” Yayi’s spokesman, Marcel de Souza, told journalists.

He said Yayi was leading in eight of the country’s 12 departments while Houngbedji was leading in four.

Houngbedji held his own news conference and said he was leading with a large margin in at least five departments and he expected the election to be decided in a second round vote.

“A great manoeuvre to condition the minds of our fellow citizens has begun ... we have trends that give us a majority,” Houngbedji told the news conference in Cotonou.

Some 3.5 million voters cast their ballots to elect a fifth president in the West African state since the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990. (Reporting by Samuel Elijah, Writing by Bate Felix; editing by Tim Cocks)

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