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Kerekou, Longtime Benin President, Dies at 82

FILE - Mathieu Kerekou, right, who was then the president of Benin, is pictured after a meeting with then-Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Cotonou, Benin, Feb. 10, 2006.

Benin has declared a week of mourning for former President Mathieu Kerekou, who died Wednesday at age 82.

No cause of death was announced.

Kerekou received his military training in Paris and returned to what was then the French colony of Dahomey as a senior military officer. He seized power in 1972 and declared a Marxist state, later changing its name to Benin.

But after a failed economy and a long period of social unrest in the country, Kerekou renounced Marxism and declared Benin a democracy, becoming one of the first West African leaders to hold a free presidential election.

He lost the 1991 vote but won in 1996 and remained in office until the constitution forced him to step down in 2006.