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Senegalese Candidates Trade Accusations on Campaign Trail

Senegal's campaign for a presidential election later this month has been mostly peaceful, but candidates have started trading nasty accusations. By far, the candidate facing the harshest criticism is the incumbent Abdoulaye Wade.   VOA's Nico Colombant reports.

Mr. Wade promised new monuments, new factories, new universities at a recent campaign stop in the southern town of Kolda.

Some of his opponents have dubbed him "Mr. Promise".

When coming to power seven years ago as a liberal candidate, ending four decades of socialist rule, Mr. Wade had promised new roads, youth employment and better government services.

But many parts of big cities in Senegal look like abandoned construction sites. Residents have become used to recurrent power outages. Thousands of youth take to the Atlantic Ocean every month on flimsy pirogues (canoes) desperately seeking a new life in Europe.

One opposition candidate, Moustapha Niasse, who was once his prime minister, accused Mr. Wade of being responsible for the Joola ferryboat disaster in 2002, which killed an estimated 1,800 people.

Mr. Wade called him a liar.  He said he should feel lucky he had not been put in jail in recent years for alleged wrongdoing while he was prime minister.

Mr. Niasse says maybe it should be the other way around.

"I am wondering myself if we see all the things he did during these seven years, if a prison in this world will be sufficient for President Wade," he said.  "If President Wade really had full accusations he would not wait until now to say that. So this man is afraid, as he has no results to present to the population."

Another candidate, and former prime minister, Idrissa Seck, who was effectively jailed, but later released, has called for a generational change in power.

He says he assumes Mr. Wade's liberal heritage, but not his failed policies. 

Opponents of the incumbent also say Mr. Wade is too old to run again. The president's age is listed as 80, but many opposition candidates say he is in his mid 80s.

There are 15 candidates.  More than 50 percent of the vote is needed to win outright in the first round, February 25.

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