Sat, May 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Calm returns to Benin after post-election violence

AFP, COTONOU, Benin

Calm appeared to return to Benin late on Thursday following two days of angry post-election violence in which at least two people died, as the definitive results of the parliamentary polls were published.

“Turnout ... was 27.1 percent,” Beninese Constitutional Court President Joseph Djogbenou said, higher than the 23 percent announced when preliminary results were released.

“Considering the irregularities and the disturbances [during the vote], these are still not of a nature to compromise the validity and transparency of the vote,” said Djogbenou, who is close to Beninese President Patrice Talon.

Violence broke out on Wednesday shortly after the provisional results were announced of Sunday’s vote, which was held without a single opposition candidate.

Two former Beninese presidents, Boni Yayi and Nicephore Soglo, had urged Talon to annul the vote that they described as an “electoral state coup.”

Earlier, soldiers had fired shots as they clamped down on the second day of demonstrations.

Large numbers of troops and riot police — as well as hundreds of protesters — squared off in the streets of Benin’s economic capital, Cotonou.

A witness said that three people were killed on Thursday as soldiers opened fire, and a video showed troops shooting as protesters fled.

In the town of Kandi, a young man was also killed late on Wednesday by shots fired by soldiers.

The protests began hours after initial results released on Wednesday showed a record-low election turnout.

Beninese Minister of the Interior Sacca Lafia told French radio RFI that some officers had “gone against given orders” and those found guilty would receive the “toughest punishment.”

“Talon ... will not be able to kill our democracy,” one demonstrator said.

“Democracy is precious to us,” another said. “That is why we have protested.”

One of the nation’s largest cotton factories — a sector in which Talon made his fortune before embarking on politics — was set on fire.

UN envoy for West Africa Mohammed Ibn Chambas was holding talks with regional leaders and officials in Benin to ensure “a peaceful solution,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York on Thursday.

“We are closely following the situation in Benin,” Dujarric said. “We note with concern the ongoing tension and unrest, resulting in destruction of property and high-handed response from the security forces.”

Tough new eligibility criteria effectively barred opposition parties from fielding candidates in the parliamentary elections.

Opposition leaders asked people not to vote, and the preliminary results showed that more than three-quarters of the country’s 5 million registered voters heeded the call.

Events in the small West African state has given rise to warnings from civil society and rights groups inside and outside Benin.

Ahead of the vote, Amnesty International said that a “wave of arbitrary arrests of political activists and journalists, and the crackdown on peaceful protests” had reached an “alarming level.”

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