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Benin’s president seeks re-election after violent protests

COTONOU, Benin (AP) — Benin’s voters cast ballots Sunday in a presidential election that has been marred by violent demonstrations as incumbent leader Patrice Talon ran for a second term despite once pledging he would not.

The opposition said the vote was going forward without a number of top challengers, including one from the party of former President Boni Yayi who was disqualified from taking part. Over the past week, protests have erupted in several cities across Benin, particularly in those favorable to the former president.

Election officials warned late Saturday that the unrest had disrupted the arrival of election materials in some localities and that voting operations would start late in affected areas in northern Benin.

As a candidate in 2016, Talon promised that five years in the presidency would be enough, but later decided to run for a second term. He faced two challengers in Sunday’s vote — international auditor Allasane Soumanou and civil administrator Corentin Kohou.

“Today will be another great day. At the end, we will see that the intimidation and fear have not worked,” Talon said after casting his ballot.

On Thursday, the army dispersed a demonstration in Save in the center of the country. Two people were killed and half a dozen injured. Similarly, another violent protest was dispersed in Bante, located about 170 miles (278 kilometers) north of Cotonou. Residents reached by telephone said that hundreds of people had fled the city for fear of reprisals by the army.

Several dozen people were arrested in various parts of the small West African country, including the opposition politicians who had accused of instigating the violent demonstrations and disturbing public order.

In early March, failed opposition candidate Reckya Madougou was jailed on charges of “financing acts of violence with the aim of disrupting the presidential election.”

The political tensions have prompted concern from the international community.

In a joint statement Friday, the embassies of Germany, the United States, France, the Netherlands and the European Union delegation said they regretted the acts of violence ahead of the vote.

“They call for an end to the violence and a return to calm, and hope that the election can be held in a free, peaceful and transparent manner,” the statement said.

Talon, who made his fortune in Benin’s main export of cotton, went into exile in France after being accused of taking part in a failed 2012 plot to poison the then-president Yayi with several others. Talon denied the allegations and later returned to Benin, where he won the 2016 election runoff to succeed Yayi.

By VIRGILE AHISSOU
Associated Press

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