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By Diadie Ba and Bate Felix
DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade admitted defeat in Sunday's election, state television reported, ending his bid for a third term that had sparked deadly clashes in the normally peaceful country.
The octogenarian leader phoned rival Macky Sall to congratulate him, state broadcaster RPS reported late on Sunday, an announcement greeted by celebrations across the capital Dakar.
Early results showed Wade, who has been in power since 2000, trailing his former ally and ex-prime minister by a wide margin.
"The president of the republic Abdoulaye Wade called candidate Macky Sall at 2130 GMT to congratulate him," state broadcaster RPS reported late on Sunday. "This follows the publication of very early results from the second round of presidential elections of March 25," it said.
An official at Sall's headquarters confirmed the report. "Today is a great day for Senegal," Arona Ndoffene Diouf, a Sall advisor said.
The election is the latest test for democracy in a region plagued by bloodshed and flawed polls, including Ivory Coast's which triggered a civil war last year. Senegal is the only nation in mainland West Africa not to have experienced a coup since independence.
Opposition activists had said Wade's quest for a third term was unconstitutional and some voters viewed him as yet another example of a long-serving African leader seeking to hang on to power.
The United States and former colonial ruler France had urged Wade not to run.
A top legal body, however, upheld his argument that his first term did not count because it began before a two-term limit was adopted.
Early poll results from Dakar, where Wade has faced his harshest opposition, showed Sall mostly ahead, including in Wade's own precinct in the upscale Point E neighbourhood with 417 votes to Wade's 120.
Full results are expected Monday or Tuesday.
In Dakar's downtown, site of several violent protests ahead of the first round, cars honked their horns and dozens of Sall supporters took to the streets singing and playing drums as the piecemeal results were read over the radio.
Wade fell short of the outright majority he needed to avoid a run-off in the February 26 first round, with 34.8 percent to Sall's 26.6 percent. The other first-round candidates united behind Sall, improving his chances.
Sall's manifesto includes a revamp of Senegal's outage-prone energy sector and renewed efforts to end a simmering rebellion in the southern Casamance region, once a tourist destination.
Sall, 50, also promised to cut taxes on basics such as rice. Rising food prices mean some households spend half their income on a daily communal bowl of rice and sauce.
Sall praised Senegal's peaceful voting.
"This shows that our country is a major democracy. We have a mature population that can choose lucidly and responsibly, and this is encouraging to me," he said after casting his ballot at a polling station in the centre of Dakar.
The European Union said the election conditions were mostly positive, but noted that the voter list contained errors - including the names of some 130,000 dead people.
Poverty and mass unemployment are the main grievances. Wade argued that he has done more than the rival Socialists did in the 40 years they ruled after independence from France in 1960.
Senegal has $500 million Eurobond, which analysts said depreciated before the first round vote due to the deteriorating political and security climate.
(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun and Richard Valdmanis; Writing by Bate Felix and Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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