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President Urho Kekkonen, whose 'Finlandization' policy forged close ties...

HELSINKI, Finland -- President Urho Kekkonen, whose 'Finlandization' policy forged close ties with the Soviet Union but preserved Finland's formal neutrality, resigned for health reasons after 25 years in office, the government announced today.

Kekkonen, 81, resigned after a seven-week illness caused by a blood circulation problem in his brain that left him unable to resume official duties.

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The resignation, apparently written with a trembling hand, was accepted by the cabinet in a brief session early today.

Elections will be held Jan. 17-18 to pick 300 presidential electors - leading political and public figures -- who will choose Kekkonen's successor Jan. 26, the government said.

Kekkonen will remain in office until his successor is sworn in Jan. 27, the government said.

Prime Minister Mauno Koivisto, 57, the nation's acting president since Kekkonen fell ill Sept. 10, will continue to serve until the elections, the government said.

'I have been struck with illness and, because of it, I have been unable to take care of my task as the president,' Kekkonen told the cabinet in a signed statement written Monday.

'And now the illness is found to be of such a nature as to be a permanent hindrance,' he said.

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Kekkonen's health had been failing rapidly for a year and he was visibly weak during a trip to the Soviet Union in November 1980.

After he was stricken last month his speaking ability and memory were impaired and there were reports he was unable to recognize visitors.

Recent polls showed Koivisto, the leader of the Social Democratic Party and a former governor of the Central Bank, favored by 70 percent of the voters. Political analysts said he was almost certain to win the upcoming presidential elections.

But the change in leadership is not expected to affect Finland's special relationship with the Soviet Union, with whom the nation of 4.7 million shares a 793-mile border and a military cooperation pact.

Kekkonen's policy of close ties with Soviet Union gave rise in the West to the disparaging term 'Finlandization,' meaning the uncritical accommodation of a greater power.

But Kekkonen made no apology for the accommodation, calling Finland's 'policy of neutrality' his 'life's work.'

'To maintain and strengthen it, I shall labor until my last breath,' He once said.

One political analyst said 'It is 100 percent certain that any candidate will endorse the Kekkonen line in foreign policy. Finnish policy has been very stable and there will be continuity.'

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Under Kekkonen -- who was first elected in 1956, re-elected for three more terms and then given a fifth term through special legislation - foreign policy was almost completely controlled by the president's office.

Kekkonen's era brought unprecedented prosperity and security to the Finns, whose friendship is valued by Moscow as a buffer between Russian soil and Norway, a NATO member.

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