• 2-U.N. police base under attack in Mali's Timbuktu - United Nations

    05/Feb/2016 // 377 Viewers

     

    By Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo
     
    BAMAKO Feb 5 (Reuters) - Unknown assailants attacked and withdrew inside a U.N. police base in the Malian city of Timbuktu on Friday morning, the United Nations said, while security sources said a Malian army checkpoint in the city had also come under fire.
     
    The attackers drove up to the entrance of the U.N. base in the former Hotel Palmeraie at around 6:30 a.m. (0630 GMT) and then detonated their vehicle, said Olivier Salgado, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
     
    "An unknown number of assailants have withdrawn inside the camp. An operation is currently under way with Malian and MINUSMA forces," he said, adding that an injured police officer had been evacuated.
     
    A military source in Timbuktu said the site, near the entrance to the city, had been taken over exclusively by a Nigerian police contingent, and there were no other residents as the hotel was no longer operational.
     
    He could not say whether there were any U.N. personnel inside the site with the attackers. Salgado said it had been empty at the time of the attack, barring a few guards.
     
    Simultaneously, a Malian army checkpoint in the Kabara neighbourhood near the airport was attacked by gunmen. It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
     
    Islamist militants, who briefly held the city of Timbuktu in 2012 until French forces drove them out, have stepped up attacks in Mali in recent months as part of a growing regional insurgency.
     
    Last month, al Qaeda fighters seized a Swiss missionary living there and set conditions for her release.


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  • Sierra Leone convicts six of destroying palm oil trees in land rights dispute

    05/Feb/2016 // 183 Viewers

     

    By Umaru Fofana
     
    BO, Sierra Leone (Reuters) - A Sierra Leone court has convicted six people opposed to a palm oil project in which French conglomerate Bollore owns a major stake of destroying trees and inciting the local population to protest over land rights.
     
    In a ruling on Thursday, the court in the town of Bo found that the defendants, who include a former lawmaker and are members of a local landowners association, destroyed 40 palm oil trees belonging to Socfin in the Pujehun District.
     
    An official with Luxemburg-based Socfin said thousands of trees had been damaged during the 2013 incident, but he did not provide a precise figure.
     
    A growing number of African land lease deals for mining and agribusiness have provoked tensions for allegedly depriving often poor countries of the means to feed their own populations.
     
    The six defendants, who received sentences ranging from five to six months in prison in addition to fines, were involved in organising protests against what they claimed were unduly low fees paid by Socfin for the land it used.
     
    They had risked prison terms of up to five years.
     
    Riots have in the past broken out in parts of Sierra Leone against both mining and agribusiness companies by locals accusing them of "land grabs".
     
    "I am a little bit disappointed with the judgement even though the sentence is lenient," said Joseph Rahall, head of Green Scenery which paid the defendants' legal costs and campaigns against large land acquisitions by global firms.
     
    Socfin, which has always maintained that it has respected the terms of its agreement with the government of Sierra Leone, welcomed the conclusion of the case.
     
    "In Sierra Leone you have a perfectly well-working legal system, and this thing has been going on long enough," said Gerben Haringsma, Socfin's country director.
     
    "The judge has reached a decision and we will respect any decision they take," he said.
     
    Socfin manages around 180,000 hectares of palm oil and rubber plantations in Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo and in Asia in Indonesia and Cambodia.
     
    Bollore, an industrial conglomerate with a heavy focus on Africa, owns a 38.7 percent stake in Socfin.


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  • UN troops in Liberia accused over assault on teen

    05/Jan/2016 // 191 Viewers

     

     
    As news of the execution spread on Sunday, enraged Iranians burst into the Saudi embassy where they destroyed furniture and started fires. Demonstrators also attacked a consulate in Iran’s second city of Mashhad.
     
    Protests spread to Bahrain, a Sunni kingdom which has a Shiite majority population.
     
    Saudi authorities said they had asked Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but that Tehran had failed to do so. Riyadh hit back by ordering diplomats, as well as consular and embassy staff, representing Tehran to leave the country within 48 hours.
     
    Tehran hit back on Monday, accusing Saudi Arabia of exploiting the embassy attack to fuel tensions in the region, adding that it was committed to protecting foreign diplomatic missions.
     
    "Iran... is committed to provide diplomatic security based on international conventions. But Saudi Arabia, which thrives on tensions, has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions," Ministry Spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in televised remarks.
     
    ‘Inhuman’ execution
     
    Relations between Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shiite-ruled Iran have been strained for decades, with Riyadh frequently accusing Tehran of interfering in Arab affairs.
     
    The two countries have also been divided over the nearly five-year war in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime, and the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite rebels.
     
    ‘LOWEST SAUDI-IRAN RELATIONS SINCE IRAN-IRAQ WAR’
     
    Nimr was a central figure in Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence.
     
    Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned Nimr's execution, saying "God will not forgive" the kingdom for putting him to death.
     
    "The unjustly spilt blood of this martyr will have quick consequences," he said, adding, "It will haunt the politicians of this regime."
     
    Meanwhile, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani condemned the execution as “inhuman”, but also urged the prosecution of “extremist individuals” for attacking the embassy and the Saudi consulate, state media reported.
     
    UN Security Council condemnation
     
    The United Nations has launched an investigation into allegations that two military personnel were involved in a teenage boy being beaten up in northern Liberia, it said in a statement.
     
    The incident is alleged to have taken place on December 4 in Bong County, according to the statement issued late Thursday by UNMIL, the UN's peacekeeping mission in Liberia.
     
    "The alleged misconduct involved the beating of a teenage boy," said Waldemar Vrey, UNMIL's officer-in-charge, adding that the accusations came to light on Tuesday.
     
    "The mission takes such allegations extremely seriously and dispatched yesterday a preliminary fact-finding team, led by the force Provost Marshall -- the highest ranking member of the military police.
     
    "The team is tasked with preserving evidence in the event a full investigation is warranted."
     
    Vrey gave no details on the incident but said UNMIL had arranged "on humanitarian grounds" to have the boy moved to JFK Hospital in Monrovia, the largest in the country.
     
    "While the facts in this case are being established, our thoughts are with the boy, whose condition remains moderately serious, and his family," he added.
     
    He called for "all parties to remain calm and cooperate with those establishing the facts" in Bong, which borders Guinea.
     
    A 15,000-strong UNMIL force was set up in 2003 to help Liberia transition to peace after devastating back-to-back civil wars spanning 14 years.
     
    It has been gradually handing its duties back to the government and will have just 1,240 troops and 600 police on the ground when Liberia assumes full responsibility for its own security in June.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Business Recorder


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  • Evidence ‘pointing to Islamic State bomb’ in Russian plane crash

    05/Nov/2015 // 519 Viewers

    Evidence now suggests that a bomb, possibly planted by the Islamic State militant group, may have downed the Russian Metrojet airliner that crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, US and European security sources said on Wednesday.
     
    The officials stressed they had reached no final conclusions about the crash, which killed all 224 people on board.
     
    There is a “significant possibility” that an explosive device caused the crash of a Russian plane in Egypt last weekend, Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said on Wednesday, in the strongest remarks yet by an official on the cause of the crash.
     
    The Airbus A321M crashed on Saturday in the Sinai Peninsula shortly after taking off from the tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on its way to the Russian city of St Petersburg.
     
    “We have concluded that there is a significant possibility that the crash was caused by an explosive device on board the aircraft,” Hammond said after a meeting of the government’s crisis response committee chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
     
    Hammond’s remarks came as Britain prepares to host a visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi this week.
     
    The IS group, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria and is battling the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula, said again on Wednesday it brought down the plane, adding it would eventually give details on how it carried out the attack.
     
    Leaning towards terrorist cause
     
    CNN reported on Wednesday that, according to an unnamed US official, the plane was most likely brought down by a bomb planted by IS militants or an affiliate of the group.
     
    Two US and one European official told Reuters that intelligence reporting is leaning towards terrorism as a cause of the crash, but cautioned there was no conclusive proof yet.
     
    An Egyptian official close to the team investigating the black boxes told Reuters that the cause of the crash “is believed to be an explosion but what kind is not clear”.
     
    “There are forensic investigations underway at the crash site. That will help determine the cause, to see if traces of explosives are found,” the source said.
     
    President Sisi has described Islamist militancy as an existential threat to the Arab world and the West and has repeatedly called for greater international efforts to combat the militants.
     
    But Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry criticised remarks by Cameron on Wednesday when the British PM said “the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device”.
     
    Shoukry told CNN he was “somewhat surprised” by the statement.
     
    “This is a matter for the investigation to clarify and we should not prejudge or take any measures that might have implications,” he said.
     
    ‘Stowed object’ on board?
     
    A Russian aviation official said the investigation was looking into the possibility of an object stowed on board causing the disaster.
     
    “There are two versions now under consideration: something stowed inside (the plane) and a technical fault. But the airplane could not just break apart in the air – there should be some action. A rocket is unlikely as there are no signs of that,” the Russian official said.
     
    Security experts and investigators have said the plane is unlikely to have been struck from the outside and Sinai-based militants are not believed to possess the technology to shoot down a jet from a cruising altitude above 30,000 feet.
     
    A Western diplomatic source in Europe said the claim of responsibility by an Islamic State (IS) affiliate, called Sinai Province, was being treated as serious.
     
    “The theory of an explosive device, with local complicity, is being taken seriously. Nothing is proven yet, but it is a real possibility,” he told Reuters.
     
    UK ambassador to the United Nations Matthew Rycroft told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday that the Security Council, of which both the UK and Russia are permanent members, “stands ready to take forward action" if evidence reveals that the jet was bombed, but didn’t give any further details.
     
    Blow to tourist industry
     
    Any evidence that a bomb knocked the plane out of the sky would deal a heavy blow to tourism in Egypt, a pillar of the economy that is struggling to recover after years of political turmoil, and would also undermine Sisi’s assertions that Cairo has brought the Sinai Province insurgency under control.
     
    Sinai Province has said it had brought down the airliner “in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”.
     
    “We, with God’s grace, are the ones who brought it down, and we are not obliged to disclose the mechanism of its demise,” a speaker said in an audio message posted on Twitter.
     
    Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, launched air raids against opposition groups in Syria including the IS on September 30. The hardline group has called for war against both Russia and the United States in response to their airstrikes in Syria.
     
    (DAILYGLOBE with REUTERS)


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  • Economic Slump: Finance Minister fired!

    05/Sep/2016 // 4356 Viewers

     

    THE  Minister of Finance has been fired following a slump in the country’s economic situation stemming from crashed crude oil prices.

    The sack, which was announced on Monday, by  José Eduardo dos Santos, president of Angola come two months after the Angolan government pulled out of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over emergency funding.

    A statement quoted by Reuters said Manuel, who was appointed in 2013 and whose term had been due to run to 2017, would be replaced by Archer Mangueira, capital markets commission head.

    Over the last two years, Manuel had presided over an economic slump caused by a sharp drop in oil prices that sapped dollar inflows, hammered the kwanza — the Angolan currency — and led heavy government borrowing.

    Like Angola, Nigeria has also been hit by the plunge in crude oil prices and a rapid depreciation of the local currency.

    The kwanza slid more than 30 percent against the dollar in 2015, and in January the central bank allowed for another 15 percent, weakening to 155 against the dollar.

    Nigeria has seen a depreciation of over 40 percent on the naira against the dollar in 2016.

    Angola’s inflation had soared from 11 percent in August 2015 to 35 percent in July 2016, while Nigeria’s is from 9.3 to 17.1 percent within the same period.

    Dino Melaye, senator representing Kogi West, called for the removal of Kemi Adeosun, Nigeria’s finance minister over her “gross incompetence”.

    “The finance minister has not only displayed gross incompetence on the job, she also lacks the basic and rudimentary grasp of economic fundamentals necessary to run a critical sector of the Nigerian economy like the finance ministry,” he had said.

    “It is time for her to go now and pave way for a qualified and experienced person to steer the Nigerian economy away from the dark woods it has sunk presently under her stewardship.”

    Like the Nigerian president, dos Santos is getting unpopular by the day due to the economic hardship caused by the fall in oil prices.


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  • Anyone Who Believes Jihadists Will Find Virgins in Heaven is Insane - King of Morocco Mohammed VI

    05/Sep/2016 // 639 Viewers

    (BIN) - Muslim jihadists who kill in the name of Allah are heretics who are destined to dwell in hell for eternity, said the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, on August 20.

    In a televised speech translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), the Muslim king slammed Muslim terrorists, saying they are “led by ignorance” and in violation of the laws of jihad and shari’a.
     
    “The terrorists who operate in the name of Islam are not Muslims. They have nothing to do with Islam, and jump on the bandwagon in order to justify their crimes and stupid acts. They are people who have been led astray, and they are destined to dwell in hell for all eternity,” he charged.
     
    The monarch, who has ruled the Muslim country of Morocco for 17 years, continued on to say that terrorists fundamentally misunderstand the concept of jihad. “When was jihad ever about the killing of innocent people?” he asked.
     
    “Allah said: ‘…do not transgress. Allah does not love the transgressors.’ Is it conceivable that Allah, the Forgiver, the Compassionate, would order a person to blow himself up or to kill innocent people?”
     
    He added that suicide is prohibited in Islam, regardless of the reasons, and again quoted the commandments of Allah (Arabic for the name of God): “Allah said: ‘…Whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption upon the land – it is as if he had killed all of mankind.’”
     
    The idea is very similar to the Jewish precept which teaches that if a man saves a life, it as if he has saved the whole world.
     
    Calling Islam “a religion of peace,” King Mohammed blasted extremists’ deliberate misinterpretation of jihad. “Jihad in Islam is subject to specific conditions, including the condition that it must not be waged unless for the purpose of defense, and may never be waged for the purpose of killing or aggression,” he expounded.
     
    Any Muslim who calls for such killing and aggression, accuses people of heresy unjustly, or interprets the Quran and other holy writings as a means to justify their own ends are “attributing lies to Allah and his messenger,” he declared, calling this “the true heresy.”
     
    The Third Jihad: Radical Islam's Vision for America
    He touched on the growing crisis of Muslim extremism in Europe, accusing radicalists of “exploiting Muslim youth” by recruiting them for jihad under false understandings of the true meaning of Islam.
     
    “Can anyone of sound mind believe that the reward for jihad could be some virgins in paradise?” he asked incredulously.
     
    “The terrorists and extremists are using all possible means to persuade the youth to join them, and to strike at societies that bask in the values of liberty, openness, and tolerance.”
     
    He referred specifically to a terror attack in which a French priest was killed in his own church during a service, saying that it directly violated shari’a (Islamic) law.
     
    “We believe that the killing of a monk is prohibited by the shari’a, and that killing him in a church is an unforgivable act of stupidity, because he is a human being and a cleric, even if he is not a Muslim,” stated the king.
     
    He added a message of tolerance towards Christianity and Judaism, the religions of the Book, again supported by the Quran. “Islam has instructed us to be good to the People of the Book. Allah said: ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers’,” he pointed out.
     
    The monarch called on people of all faiths to join together against the extremist phenomenon.
     
    “Everybody – Muslims, Christians, and Jews – must stand together in the fight against all types of extremism, against hatred, and against close-mindedness,” he urged.
    Morocco, whose official state religion is Sunni Islam, is ruled by a constitutional monarchy, meaning the king holds wide executive and legislative powers but is regulated by an elected parliament.


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  • BREAKING NEWS: Southern Port town of Marka in Somalia falls under al-Shabab control

    06/Feb/2016 // 331 Viewers

     

    PARIS, FEBRUARY 6, 2016: (DGW) - The port town of Marka on Friday has again fallen under the  control of al-Shabab militants following the exit of African Union troops and Somalia National Army, DailyGlobeWatch can authoritatively reveal.

    Residents told our reporter that soon after the AU troops and Somalia National Army left the town, al-Shabab militants invaded the town and hoisted their flag. Also confirming the armed invasion of Marka which is about 100 kilometers southwest of the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, Shiekh Abdiasis Abu Musab, al-Shabab's spokesperson for military operations told DailyGlobeWatch that  his men are now in control of the southern port town of Marka.


    Read Also: 2-U.N. police base under attack in Mali's Timbuktu - United Nations

    The blare of speakers  calling faithful  to prayers could be heard after which preaching  to the residents commenced.

    Somali's security operatives were nowhere in sight as of the time of filing this report. Eyewitnesses told our reporter that they stealthily moved away for fear of being attacked by the dreaded militants.

    Recall al-Shabab had on January 15, 2016, staged a pre-dawn raid on a Kenyan military base in the country killing as many as 100 Kenyan soldiers.

     

     


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  • FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

    06/Feb/2016 // 186 Viewers

    BY GRAHAM DUNBAR
    AP Sports Writer
     
    GENEVA - Two soccer federations have defied the Confederation of African Football's leadership to endorse FIFA presidential candidates on Saturday.
     
    South Sudan's federation pledged its vote for Gianni Infantino, the UEFA general secretary from Switzerland, Liberia declared for former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan.
     
    They followed Egypt which promised its vote to Prince Ali on Friday, just hours after the CAF executive committee urged Africa's 54 FIFA voters to support Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain in the Feb. 26 election.
     
    Their independence has again shown that claims of unanimous continent-wide support are rarely true in FIFA elections.
     
    "We are supporting Mr. Gianni Infantino for the FIFA presidency," South Sudan federation president Chabur Goc Alei told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "Any (voter) has the right to choose whoever they want."
     
    Prince Ali's campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.
     
    Bility wrote that Prince Ali "represents real change" while other candidates were "not even prepared to criticize" the FIFA system.
     
    "He demonstrated this by standing against President Sepp Blatter when it was unthinkable to do so," Bility wrote, referring to the prince's 133-73 loss to Blatter last May. Days later, Blatter announced his exit plans under pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption in international soccer.
     
    Bility was himself an applicant last October in the presidential contest. He then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA's election monitoring committee, which did not publish reasons for barring Bility.
     
    Sheikh Salman has been seen as the election front-runner with public support from the executive committees of the African and Asian confederations. The two continents have 100 of the 209 FIFA members.
     
    Infantino has been backed by the leadership of UEFA, the South American body CONMEBOL and the seven-member Central American regional group in the CONCACAF confederation.
     
    South Sudan's Alei said Infantino's pledge of financial support for smaller regional groups was key to his federation's endorsement.
     
    The other candidates are former FIFA official Jerome Champagne of France and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale. - AP


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  • Liberia President Supports Reducing Presidential Term

    06/Jan/2016 // 339 Viewers

     

                    Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia


    Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said she supports the call by Liberians to reduce the presidential term of office from two six-year terms to two four-year terms. 

    A constitution review commission set up by Sirleaf recommended last year to reduce the number of years the president can serve. The commission also recommended the term of office for senators be reduced from the current nine years to six, and representatives from six to four years. Information Minister Lewis Brown said Sirleaf’s support to change the presidential term to two four-year terms is part of her effort to build a democratic governance model that is transparent and that every Liberian can feel a part of.

    “She has, in fact, written the legislature and she has asked to actually consider amending the presidential term to two four-year terms rather than what it is today which is two six-year terms.  In effect, limiting the president to a maximum of eight years in office," he said.

    Under the current 1986 constitution, the president and vice president serve six-year terms, senators serve for nine years and members of the House of Representatives six years.

    Members of the Senate and House of Representatives can run for re-election for as many times as they wish as long they are elected by their constituents.

    Brown would not say if Sirleaf is trying to set an example for other African leaders who are trying to change their countries’ constitutions to extend their stay in power.

    “Well, if her example is anything to go by, then certainly it speaks to the fact that she will favor presidential term limit. Now, whether she is sending a message to the rest of Africa, I’m not in the position to say. But I know that her entire leadership has been around making sure that Liberia is best positioned, whether it be through economic transformation, whether it be political transformation, so that every citizen feels a duty to their country in the first instance and that we can deepen the institutional capacity of our society to build the kind of democratic governance model that is a bit more transparent, and a bit more accountable to the people,” Brown said.

    Many long-serving African leaders have been using what has been dubbed by some as a “softer, gentler coup d’état” to stay in power by reforming their countries’ constitutions.

    The tactic has been used by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who is in a tight re-election fight in polling scheduled for next month.

     

    Most recently, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza won a controversial third term in an election that his critics said violated the constitution. In Rwanda, the parliament removed the two seven-year presidential term limit and paved the way for President Paul Kagame to continue in office.

    Liberia's Constitutional Review Conference approved several recommendations, including a provision making Liberia a ‘Christian’ nation, the election of superintendents of the country’s 15 political subdivisions by the citizens rather than by presidential  appointment, equal representation for women, and rejection of dual citizenship.

    Brown said Sirleaf supports dual citizenship because she feels the country would benefit economically.

    “It is not in the best interest of our country to alienate people who were born to Liberian parentage, people who are truly Liberians. And she used other economic indicators that dual citizenship has had a positive impact on the economy, especially at a time when we need to invest in our country,” Brown said.        

    The Liberian legislature, which returns to work next week from its summer break, will have to approve the term limits recommendations before they are put to a national referendum.

    Liberia holds presidential election in 2017.




    VOA


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  • Benin votes for new president to succeed Boni Yayi

    06/Mar/2016 // 185 Viewers

     

    Cotonou (AFP) - Polls closed and counting began in Benin on Sunday after voting to choose a new president from a record 33 candidates, with monitors reporting few problems despite concerns about election cards.

    Ballot papers were being collated and tallied across the tiny West African nation, with overall results expected within 72 hours.

    Mathieu Boni, an official from a civil society group which has deployed more than 3,000 election observers, said there was "no major incident".

    President Thomas Boni Yayi is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out among some African leaders who have tried to change constitutions to ensure third terms.

    "My impressions are good for the simple reason that, with my departure, our democracy goes one step further," Boni Yayi told reporters.

    Key issues in the election include urgent job creation, tackling corruption, improving access to health and education, and the economy in the country, which is a major cotton producer.

    Despite its problems, largely agricultural Benin, which is dwarfed by Nigeria to the east, has been seen as a relatively stable country in often turbulent, West Africa.

    Benin, an important centre of the voodoo religion that is now promoting itself as a major regional shipping hub, introduced multi-party democracy in 1990 after nearly two decades of military rule.

    - Main contenders -

    Front-runners in the election include Lionel Zinsou, the Franco-Beninese financier who stepped down as head of France's biggest investment bank to become prime minister last year.

    The 61-year-old is standing for the ruling Cowry Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE) party and is widely viewed as Boni Yayi's chosen successor.

    View galleryOne of the leading contenders for the presidential …
    One of the leading contenders for the presidential race and former head of the West African Developm …
    He already has the support of two opposition parties but critics view him as an outsider "parachuted" in by France as part of Paris' continued involvement in its former colonies.

    Zinsou, who in the 1980s was a speechwriter for France's socialist former prime minister Laurent Fabius, cast his vote shortly before midday in the Cocotiers area of Benin's commercial hub, Cotonou.

    "I am not so presumptious to personally give a forecast," he told reporters. "It's up to the voters to choose with the freedom and calm of a great democracy."

    Two of Benin's leading businessmen, Patrice Talon, 57, and Sebastien Ajavon, 51, are also among the favourites, pitching for the top job after previously bankrolling presidential bids.

    Others include economist Abdoulaye Bio Tchane and financier Pascal Irenee Koupaki, both 64, who voted in the northern town of Djougou and Pomasse in the south.


    With so many candidates, political analysts predict no decisive result on Sunday and believe whoever wins in the northern region will determine the overall result.

    - Voters' cards -

    Farmer Emile Sosa was one of the first to vote in Cocotiers, Cotonou, and said lack of opportunities for the country's young people was a major problem.

    "I want the next president to encourage the youth to take to agriculture," said the 49-year-old father of four.

    The first round of voting had been due to take place on February 28 but was rescheduled because of delays in the production and distribution of the 4.7 million voters' cards.

    On Saturday evening, distribution of new voters' cards had not started in two central states (Zou and Plateau) and had not been completed in several of the 10 others that make up the country.

    The head of the independent electoral commission, Emmanuel Tiando, said both old and new cards would be allowed "to avoid any tense situations and allow all voters to take part in the ballot".

    In Zou and Plateau, voting would be allowed with identity cards rather than voter cards, he added, promising that all election material was available in polling stations across the country.

    Voter Franck Tokannou said after casting his ballot in Cotonou: "This morning has been difficult for those who are organising it all but it seems that it's going OK. Everything is in order."


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