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Benin Post-Poll Protests Raises Tensions

Opposition leader and presidential contender Adrien Houngbedji, 69, casts his vote for president in Porto Novo, Benin, March 13, 2011 (file photo)

Benin police used tear gas and batons to disperse protesters contesting the re-election of President Boni Yayi to a second term, raising concerns of growing unrest in the country.

Several hundred supporters of opposition candidate Adrien Houngbedji held signs, burned tires and rallied Thursday in the commercial capital Cotonou against what they say was a fraudulent presidential election.

The demonstrations come just three days after the constitutional court confirmed President Boni Yayi's re-election, despite Houngbedji's claims of polling irregularities.

Houngbedji, 69, lost the March 13 poll with only 36 percent of the vote to Mr. Yayi, who captured 53 percent.

Houngbedji rejected the results in an address to supporters earlier this week.

Houngbedji reasserted that he had won the elections and would never accept the results, saying they are null and void.

The opposition's complaints come at a time when elections in West Africa are being scrutinized carefully due to the post-election crisis in Ivory Coast, where strongman President Laurent Gbagbo has refused to cede power.

West Africa's regional block, ECOWAS, said Benin's polls were mostly free and transparent. And ECOWAS chair, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, has urged the people of Benin to accept the results.

"If somebody is aggrieved at the end of elections, there are procedures, legal procedures through the legal means," said Jonathan. "But I would expect that in this case, there should be no grievances. But people have to obey the laws."

This was Houngbedji's fifth and final time running in elections because the constitution limits a candidate's age to 70.

Candidates were given five days to file appeals with the court over the results, and so far four appeals had been filed.