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Niger Holds Runoff Presidential Election

A woman casts her vote for Niger's presidential election at a polling station in Niamey, March 12, 2011

Voters in Niger cast ballots Saturday in a presidential runoff election meant to return the west African nation to civilian rule after last year's military coup that ousted Mamadou Tandja as president.

The runoff pits veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou against former prime minister Seini Oumarou.

Issoufou won 36 percent of the vote in the first round of polling on January 31, while Oumarou received 23 percent. Issoufou was favored to win Saturday's poll after being endorsed by four first-round candidates.

Speaking to reporters at a voting station in the capital, Niamey, junta leader General Salou Djibo said the vote marks a great day for every citizen of Niger. If the election is successful, the general added, Niger will have created a democracy that can be an example for the rest of Africa.

General Djibo was not among the candidates running for president.

Issoufou has said it is time for change in Niger, while Oumarou has pledged to continue the work former president Tandja began during his 10 years in power. If elected, Oumarou has pledged to release Tandja from his prison term for on corruption.

Niger's military overthrew Tandja in February of last year after he forced through constitutional changes to expand his powers and extend his mandate.

A new constitution, passed by referendum last October, gives the military until April 6 to return the country to civilian rule.

Provisional results for Saturday's election are expected early next week.

Uranium-rich Niger is dealing with problems including drought, famine, unemployment, and terrorism by al-Qaida's North Africa branch.

General Djibo led last year's military coup that toppled President Tanjda, after he forced through constitutional changes to expand his powers and extend his rule.