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Niger Holds Peaceful Election Designed to Restore Civilian Rule

President of Niger Salou Djibo, addresses the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, 23 Sept 2010 (File Photo)

Current leader calls the election a 'new beginning'

The West African nation of Niger held an election Monday designed to restore a civilian government after a year of military rule.

Niger's current leader, General Salou Djibo, who is not among the 10 candidates running for president, expressed "satisfaction and hope" as he cast his ballot in Niamey, the country's capital. He called the election a "new beginning" for Niger, one of the world's poorest and least-developed countries.

It was General Djido who led last February's military coup that toppled President Mamadou Tanjda after he forced through constitutional changes to expand his powers and extend his rule. President Tanjda is now in prison on corruption charges from his 10 years in power.

Monday's vote proceeded peacefully.

Besides a president, Niger's nearly seven million registered voters also were choosing a new parliament.

Monday's balloting was expected to be a first round presidential poll with a runoff to be held in March. Frontrunners include the leader of the anti-Tandja opposition, Mahamadou Issoufou, and two men who served as prime ministers under President Tandja, Seini Oumarou and Hama Amadou.

Despite being one of the world's top uranium producers, Niger faces huge economic problems, including chronic poverty and a struggle to recover from a major famine. It also must deal with a growing threat from al-Qaida's North African branch.

Niger has been plagued with coups and unrest since winning independence from France in 1960. This is the third time since 1993 that Niger is attempting to install a civilian government after a period of military rule.