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Niger President Leads Early Election Results

Niger's incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou speaks to journalists after voting during the country's presidential and legislative elections in Niamey, Niger, Feb. 21, 2016.

Initial returns from Niger's presidential election show incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou in the lead, but the opposition is already rejecting the results.

The vote count, released Tuesday by Niger's electoral commission, showed Issoufou winning about 40 percent of the vote, trailed by opposition candidates Hama Amadou and Seyni Oumarou with 29 and 12 percent, respectively.

The results count ballots in only 20 of Niger's 308 voting districts.

A coalition of opposition parties is dismissing the official tally as fraudulent. Coalition head Amadou Cisse said Tuesday that the government invented "thousands of polling stations" to skew the outcome.

President Issoufou is running for a second five-year term with a promise to crush Islamist militants and develop one of the poorest countries in the world.

His critics say Issoufou used political repression in the run-up to the vote, arresting opposition supporters, politicians, journalists and even a singer who released a song critical of him.

If no candidate wins 50 percent in the first round, the top two vote-getters compete in a run-off election scheduled for March 20.

President Issoufou told the French News Agency he is "absolutely" sure he will win the election and predicted a runoff will not be needed.