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Former Benin President Kerekou dead at 82


The death has been announced of Benin's long-ruling former president Mathieu Kerekou who died at the age of 82.Following his death the Government has declared a week of national mourning for the Marxist who seized power in a coup but later set off a new wave of African democracy.

The death of  former President Kerekou, who ruled the country on and off for a total of 28 years, comes as the leaders of several African countries such as Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo face accusations of seeking to retain power beyond constitutional limits.

President Thomas Boni Yayi announced Kerekou's death on Wednesday, calling him a "great man".

"In the government's name, I declare a week-long state of national mourning with all flags in the land flying at half-mast," Boni Yayi said in a statement on Thursday.

Considered by many to be the father of modern Benin, Kerekou was born in 1933 and received military training in Mali and Senegal before joining former colonial master France's army and rising through the ranks to major.

He seized power in the tiny West African country in 1972 and converted to a Marxist ideology two years later. He later renounced Marxism and came to accept multiparty democracy, organising a broad-based national dialogue in 1990 and stepping aside when he lost a vote the following year.

Kerekou made a political comeback five years later and was eventually re-elected in 2001. Faced with term limits and an age restraint, he ceded power to Boni Yayi in 2006.

In the streets of the capital Cotonou, the mood was sad in some quarters but celebratory in others.

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