Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Junta hails ‘model’ election as Niger chooses new leader

Reuters, NIAMEY

Niger’s junta said Saturday’s election of a civilian leader could serve as a model for democracy across Africa after staging a peaceful run-off vote between two presidential rivals.

The poll comes a year after soldiers ousted former Niger president Mamadou Tandja for outstaying his term in office in the West African uranium--producing state, which hopes to turn the page on decades of coups and corrupt leadership.

In contrast to an election dispute in the former regional giant Ivory Coast, Niger’s presidential vote has passed off smoothly so far and junta leader General Salou Djibo has won international praise for his professed readiness to step down.

“It is a great day for me and for all Nigeriens,” Djibo told reporters as he cast his vote in the capital Niamey.

“If this honorable vote is a success, our democratic achievement will set an example for the rest of Africa,” said Djibo, a bespectacled figure who was one of only two military leaders to be invited to France’s Africa summit last year.

Favorite to win is veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou, who scored 36 percent in the January first round and has since won endorsements from defeated candidates representing about 30 percent of the total vote.

Issoufou stands against Tandja party ally Seyni Oumarou, who scored 23 percent in the first round. Oumarou had the backing of a broad alliance of parties until they defected last month in the hope of securing posts in a future Issoufou government.

“All’s going fine, but people are only coming in to vote in dribs and drabs,” voting official Hamani Mounkaila said at one district in Niamey.

Voting ended as scheduled at 7pm local time. Results are expected early this week and the swearing-in of a new civilian leader will mark the end of junta rule next month. About 6.7 million Nigeriens are eligible to vote.

Both candidates pledged on Saturday to respect the outcome and that any challenges would be through legal channels. About 2,000 observers have been deployed and international borders shut until midnight in a security measure common in the region.

A desert nation whose uranium riches have drawn billions of dollars of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has suffered repeated coups since independence in 1960.

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