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In Benin Businessman takes strong lead in presidential election

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Street vendors hold campaign posters for presidential candidate Patrice Talon ahead of the second round of Benin's presidential election on Sunday in Cotonou, Benin, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Placide Tossou play Street vendors hold campaign posters for presidential candidate Patrice Talon ahead of the second round of Benin's presidential election on Sunday in Cotonou, Benin, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Placide Tossou (Reuters)
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Businessman Patrice Talon had a commanding lead in Benin's presidential run-off election against Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou, paving the way for a peaceful transition in one of West Africa's most stable democracies.

Preliminary results from the electoral commission put Talon, once a powerful figure in the nation's cotton industry, ahead with 65 percent of votes, while Zinzou had 35 percent. Only votes from abroad were yet to be counted, the commission said.

Zinsou conceded defeat to Talon, who said he was already focused on fixing some of the tiny country's lingering problems, which include high unemployment and a flagging economy hit by a slowdown in its neighbouring trading partner Nigeria..

"I feel like a soldier packing for the front. This is not a day of glory - congratulations will have to wait," Talon said. "The task will not be easy, but we are happy and excited that our country has turned the page."

Despite the backing of outgoing President Thomas Boni Yayi and the main opposition Democratic Renewal Party, Zinsou, a former economist and investment banker, struggled to shrug off the perception that having spent most of his career abroad he is an outsider in his own country.

"I called Patrice Talon tonight to congratulate him on his victory and wish him luck," Zinsou said on his Facebook page.

The election was seen as reinforcing the democratic credentials of Benin.

By relinquishing power after serving two terms in office, Boni Yayi stands in contrast to leaders in other African nations, including Burundi, Rwanda and Congo Republic, who have altered their constitutions to extend their rule.

Talon was once a staunch supporter of Boni Yayi before falling out of favour. Boni Yayi later accused him of involvement in a plot to poison him.

Mediation efforts led to a presidential pardon, however, and Talon returned from exile in France in October.

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