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Niger Holds National Elections


Voting is underway in Niger for presidential and parliamentary elections meant to restore civilian rule in the West African nation following last February's military coup.

Niger's legislative and presidential polls Monday are a final step in what has been a relatively smooth, year-long transition back to civilian rule. Last February, soldiers stormed the presidential palace and ousted the country's increasingly unpopular leader, Mamadou Tandja

Mr. Tandja had forced through constitutional changes to extend his powers and his mandate. He is currently in prison on charges of corruption during his 10-year rule.

The leader of the ruling military government, General Salou Djibo, expressed "satisfaction and hope" Monday as he cast his ballot in the capital, Niamey.

General Djibo, who is not a candidate, said the polls represented a "new beginning" for Niger, which is one of the world's poorest and least developed countries.

Though some polling stations opened late Monday morning, witnesses in Niamey and throughout the country said voting was calm and orderly.

Leaving his polling station in the southeastern city of Maradi, this voter says the poll is well-organized and he cannot complain. He says the authorities corrected problems from the elections held earlier this month and everything is going smoothly.

Niger's nearly seven million registered voters are casting their ballots in 116 legislative races nationwide and what analysts predict will be the first of a two-round presidential poll.

Frontrunners among the ten presidential hopefuls include the leader of the anti-Tandja opposition, Mahamadou Issoufou, and former Tandja prime ministers, Seini Oumarou and Hama Amadou.

Mr. Issoufou's opposition party dominated local and regional elections on Jan. 11th, but analysts say his chances at the presidency were undermined last week when Mr. Oumarou, Mr. Amadou and four other presidential candidates announced that they would back each other in the second round.

The electoral commission says it could take up to a week to announce the results of the presidential poll.

If no candidate wins a clear majority, a run-off between the two top vote-winners will be held in March.

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