Benin protesters demand poll delay again

2011-03-03 13:58

Cotonou - Protesters blocked roads in Benin's main city Thursday to demand a second postponement of this weekend's presidential vote amid allegations that a million people were left off the electoral roll.

The protests came as a high-level delegation from the United Nations, African Union and West African bloc Ecowas was to meet with officials in Benin on election preparations, a joint statement said.

Demonstrators gathered at three different intersections at rush hour in Cotonou on Thursday morning, chanting "we want to vote" and tying up traffic by sitting in the road, witnesses and organisers said.

In one area, motorcycle taxis tried to zip around the crowd as about 200 people held banners urging the government to postpone Sunday's vote to avoid an "unnecessary crisis".

A similar number of people gathered at two other locations and remained there for between 30 minutes and about an hour, organisers said.

"We have the right to vote," Felbert Satowaonu, 19, said as he marched toward one of the intersections.

Another protester said problems with the electoral list, which the opposition claims excludes more than a million people, would not allow for a credible vote.

"There are people who are not included in the electoral list," said Innocentia Guedegbe, a member of one of the NGOs that organised the protests. "They must be taken into account."

Symbol of change

Benin's presidential vote was originally set for February 27 but was postponed by a week due to delays in finalising the electoral list, which includes some 3.5 million people.

Besides problems with the voter roll, electoral cards are still being distributed and there have been warnings that the process cannot be completed in time for Sunday.

The foreign delegation due at Thursday's talks includes African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra, Ecowas commission president James Victor Gbeho, and Said Djinnit, special representative of the UN secretary general for West Africa, a joint statement said.

President Boni Yayi will be seeking a second term in the election, but faces a strong challenge from veteran politician Adrien Houngbedji, who is supported by many of the traditional political elites in the former French colony.

The president, a former banker, was seen as a symbol of change when he took office in 2006 in the country of some 9.2 million people, but has since been weighed down by corruption scandals.

The other major candidate in the race is Abdoulaye Bio Tchane, a former president of the West African Development Bank.