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Niger Puts Electoral Register in Shape Ahead of February Vote

FILE - Former Prime Minister Seïni Oumarou, leader of the opposition Patriotic and Republican Front in Niger, attends a rally in Niamey ahead of the country's 2016 presidential election, Nov. 1, 2015.

Niger has completed changes to its electoral register recommended by the International Organization of the Francophonie, the body said Thursday, removing a major source of tension ahead of elections next month.

President Mahamadou Issoufou is seeking another mandate as head of the historically turbulent, uranium-producing West African country on February 21. He is the favorite to win, but critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive ahead of the polls.

The OIF, an organization representing French-speaking nations tasked with overseeing the voter list, had previously recommended the removal of about 300 "ghost" polling stations and 25,000 voters counted twice.

"All of the recommendations for immediate application recommended by OIF experts overseeing the electoral register were put in place," said the OIF's Inoussa Ouedraogo, adding that all parties had approved the changes.

"The register is now reliable, valid and consensual ahead of the 2016 general election," he said.

In December, the opposition rejected the register, or list of eligible voters, saying the process did not meet its demands. The government agreed to the demand for an audit in a bid to ensure a transparent election, but the opposition then temporarily withdrew from the panel selecting a firm to carry out the review, saying no satisfactory candidate had been found.

In another positive sign, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, U.N. special representative for West Africa, expressed confidence in next month's polls and welcomed additional financial resources provided by the government for the electoral commission.

"I am confident that Niger will rise to the occasion and hold successful elections whose results are accepted by all, following the examples of other countries in the region," he said in a statement Thursday following a visit to the capital, Niamey, this week.