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Former Foreign Minister Wins Sao Tome Elections - 2001-08-01

State media in the West African archipelago of Sao Tome and Principe are reporting a surprise victory for the country's former foreign minister, Fradique de Menezes, in Sunday's presidential elections.

Fradique de Menezes is a 43-year-old businessman who, aside from his tenure as foreign minister during the late 1980's, was considered a minor figure in Sao Tome politics.

Observers had expected former longtime ruler Manuel Pinto da Costa to win the elections. Mr. Pinto da Costa ruled the Sao Tome and Principe from the time it obtained its independence from Portugal in 1975 until 1990, when the country installed a multiparty system for the first time.

Analysts had predicted the race would go into a runoff. But results released over the state media indicate that a second poll will not be necessary.

The polls say Mr. De Menezes garnered more than 56 percent of the vote, giving him a comfortable lead over Mr. Pinto da Costa, who won about 38 percent of the vote.

Mr. De Menezes, who declared himself the winner of the election on Monday, based his campaign on promises to improve living conditions in his country. Sao Tome and Principe has a population of about 140,000 people and is considered one of the world's poorest nations.

There is new hope of economic prosperity lately following the discovery of offshore oil reserves.

Sao Tome has signed an exploration agreement with Nigeria, but plans for the start of drilling have not yet been announced.

Observers who were on hand to watch Sunday's poll say the election appeared to be carried out in a free and fair manner.