Niger ruling party candidate Bazoum leads early presidential results

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FILE PHOTO: Bazoum walks with members of his delegation at the Boudouri site for displaced persons outside the town of Diffa

NIAMEY (Reuters) -The ruling party's presidential candidate in Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, held a large lead on Tuesday in partial election results, although his early score was short of the 50% he would need to avoid a second round.

Results published by the electoral commission from 39 of 266 voting districts in Sunday's election showed Bazoum with 40% of the vote, ahead of his nearest challenger, former president Mahamane Ousmane, who had about 15%.

Bazoum, a former interior minister, is considered a strong favourite to succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is stepping down after two five-year terms leading the country of 23 million.

A smooth handover would mark the first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents. Niger has experienced four coups since independence from France in 1960.

Late on Tuesday, the opposition CAP 20-21 coalition, of which Ousmane's party is a member, issued a statement accusing the ruling party of fraud, including ballot box snatching, without providing evidence.

Earlier in the day, the African Union observer mission said voting had gone well and that it had observed few major irregularities.

The new president will face rising violence from Islamist militants whose attacks have killed hundred of civilians and soldiers in the last year alone, although few security incidents were reported on election day.

The remaining results are expected to be announced in the coming days. If none of the 30 candidates receives a majority of the first-round vote, a run-off will be held in February.

(Reporting by Boureima Balima; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alistair Bell)