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Fernandez looks set for re-election

Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez got nearly half the votes against a divided opposition in a primary, giving her re-election campaign a feeling of invincibility.

Three of the nine other candidates were battling for second place in Argentina's first-ever open and simultaneous presidential primary.

Ms Fernandez had 49% of the votes, Ricardo Alfonsin had 13%, former president Eduardo Duhalde 12% and Socialist Santa Fe Governor Hermes Binner 11% with 25% of the polling places reporting.

The results suggest that unless the opposition unites around a single candidate, Ms Fernandez has a very good chance of winning re-election.

The winner on October 23 must get at least 45% of the vote to avoid a run-off, or more than 40% with a 10% lead over the second-place finisher in a race with multiple candidates.

In her victory speech, Ms Fernandez referred to the looming global economic crisis and said politicians must ensure Argentina remains independent.

"We have to not only take care of our political democracy, but our economic democracy as well," she said.

She also praised voters for what she called an historic advance in Argentina's democracy. The idea of the open, simultaneous and obligatory primary was meant to force parties to allow voters to choose candidates for president and vice president.

Instead, all the parties simply proclaimed their candidates months ago. That turned the primary into a kind of nationwide political survey, since voting is mandatory in Argentina and voters could choose any candidate in the primary irrespective of party.

Turnout was about 75% of the nation's 29 million voters, who faced fines and bureaucratic hassles if they failed to cast ballots.

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