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Benin Postpones Ban on Sale of Smuggled Fuel

The government of Benin has decided to delay a proposed ban on the sale of smuggled fuel, following an outcry from vendors. The fuel ban was announced last month following a tanker truck explosion that left dozens of people dead.

Benin proposed the ban on fuel smuggled in from neighboring Nigeria in late May, just days after a truck burst into flames in the northern town of Porga killing about 60 people.

Last week, a truck carrying smuggled fuel exploded in the administrative capital Porto Novo. No one was hurt, but the city's only cinema was destroyed.

The government says the illicit trade is a public danger, and the ban is necessary to avoid similar tragedies in the future.

But roadside fuel traders led strikes against the government decree several weeks ago that paralyzed much of the country. And officials have decided to delay implementing the ban until the end of the month.

Fuel vendor Laurent Zensou says he is waiting for the government to come up with a plan to help people like him. He says selling fuel is one of the few jobs available to the uneducated.

And though he says the stakes are high for those who may be forced to find another source of income, he says he agrees the illicit trade is dangerous.

"We will submit," Zensou said. "But something must be done to take care of us."

Following the vendor strikes, which led to long lines at legally recognized gas stations and eventually to fuel shortages, Benin's government under new President Yayi Boni decided to study the situation, says journalist Gerard Guedegbe.

"Mr. Yayi Boni has met with the traders and now they have set up committees to make reflections on which activities they can do in the place of fuel trading," he said.

But Guedegbe says directing those involved in the trade towards other sectors of the economy will not be easy.

"That is the problem. The size of the population involved in the activity is huge," he said. "And for this, the government says we should not take a decision that will bring other problems."

Measures to combat the trade once the ban comes into effect are expected to include forced dismantling of roadside fuel stands and jail time for repeat offenders.