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Djibouti's Guelleh seeks fourth term, opposition candidates doubt integrity of vote

DJIBOUTI (Reuters) - Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, was expected to win a fourth term in office in an election that began on Friday, although some opposition candidates openly doubted the integrity of the vote.

Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh arrives for a Reuters interview at his home in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2016. REUTERS/Edmund Blair

Guelleh, who won the last election in 2011 with almost 80 percent of the vote, has overseen Djibouti’s economic rise as it seeks to position itself as an international port.

“I am confident of the final victory,” he said after casting his vote.

But a leading opposition candidate said he would not accept the election result after some voters were expelled from polling stations.

“It’s part of the diet of the strategy to destabilize us,” Omar Elmi Khaireh told Reuters.

Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) president Mahmoud Hersi said everything was going well after a visit to some polling stations.

He added that only delegates sent by the presidential candidates without the proper credentials were thrown out at some polling stations. The candidates can send delegates to monitor the voting process.

Khaireh is a well-known independence fighter who was detained by the French colonial authorities during the small Horn of Africa nation’s struggle for independence in 1977.

Khaireh and Mohamed Daoud Chehem are opposition candidates from the Union for National Salvation party, while another three independent candidates are also standing against Guelleh and his People’s Rally for Progress party.

Djibouti, home to a regional port as well as U.S. and French military bases, has seen sporadic violence, usually sparked by protests against the government of Guelleh, whose party has a tight hold on power.

The country of around 876,000 people has been forging closer links with China, which also wants to build a naval base there.

The Djibouti electoral commission said 187,000 people were eligible to vote and a candidate needed to win an absolute majority to avoid a run-off election.

Djibouti’s interior ministry is expected to announce provisional results after voting closes at midnight, the electoral commission said, adding that final results must be announced no later than midnight five days after Friday’s poll.

Reporting by Abdourahim Arteh; Writing by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Hugh Lawson