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Benin election protest death toll rises to two

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A supporter waves a campaign flag with photographs of incumbent Benin President Patrice Talon (R on flag) and running mate Mariam Talata (L on flag) in the market in Cotonou on April 8, 2021. – Benin’s 5.5 million voters will on April 11, 2021 head to poll stations across the country to elect one among three candidates, incumbent President Patrice Talon, leading opposition Alassane Soumanou of the Forces for an Emerging Benin (FCBE), and Corentin Kohoue of the Dynamics Restoring Confidence party, vying to lead the West African country next term. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

A second person has died after troops opened fire with live rounds to break up a protest in central Benin just days before President Patrice Talon seeks re-election, a local official said on Friday.

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Talon, a cotton magnate first elected in 2016, is expected to easily win Sunday’s ballot with most of his main opponents exiled or disqualified, but protests have erupted in opposition bastions in the centre and north of the country.

On Thursday, troops fired tear gas and live rounds in the air to break up protesters who had blocked a major highway in the central city of Save.

Officials had reported at least one person killed and at least five wounded by gunfire.

“One of those wounded by bullets has died this morning. So the toll is now two dead and five wounded,” Save city mayor Denis Oba Chabi told AFP.

“The situation is calm and youths have not erected any new barricades, and after negotiations,/ the military has returned to the barracks.”

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Benin was long praised as a thriving multi-party democracy in often troubled West Africa, but critics say Talon has steered the country into authoritarianism with a steady crackdown on his opponents.

Most are in exile, have been disqualified by electoral reforms or targeted for investigation by a special court critics say Talon has used as a political tool.

A government spokesman Alain Orounla said on Thursday security forces were attacked by “drugged and armed” youths and had responded when they came under fire.

“It is our people’s constitutional right to protest in the street, to express themselves and to have their voices heard,” said opposition leader Joel Aivo, one of those disqualified from running in the election.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc condemned “peaceful protests that gradually turned violent in several cities across the country.”

The US State Department on Friday also called on all in Benin to remain peaceful.

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“We urge all parties to express their perspectives peacefully,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “We urge the electoral institutions and courts overseeing these processes and verifying these results to ensure these elections are conducted freely, fairly, and transparently.”

Talon faces two little-known rivals — Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue.

One opposition leader Reckya Madougou was detained last month on accusations of plotting to disrupt the election with terrorism, a charge her lawyer says is fabricated.

A judge from the special court created by Talon also fled the country this week after denouncing political pressure to make rulings against opponents, including the decision to detain Madougou.

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