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Benin opposition supporters block roads ahead of vote

Thursday April 08 2021
Benin pic
By AFP

"Talon, leave power," shouted an angry crowd of about sixty people after setting up a makeshift barricade Wednesday on a main road in central Benin, one of several protests against President Patrice Talon days before he seeks re-election.

Talon is set to win a second term on April 11 but opponents say the vote is already rigged in favour of the cotton magnate first elected in 2016.

Benin has long been applauded as a strong multi-party democracy but critics say that under Talon, the West African country has veered into authoritarianism.

Since Monday evening, several incidents have been reported in the central region, a stronghold of former president Boni Yayi, rival of the incumbent.

Because of roadblocks set up by protesters, cars and trucks have been stopped from travelling between north and south of Benin, home to 12 million people.  

In Toui, close to Yayi's hometown Tchaourou, residents left tyres on the road on Tuesday, blocking traffic. More than a dozen trucks were parked on the side of the road, stuck since 8am (0900 GMT).

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"I've been stuck for three days," said haulier Bandkoua Sabi, who was trying to travel from Parakou to the economic capital Cotonou.

A group of men, some holding sticks, machetes or hunting rifles, stood guard. 

"We are stopping cars from passing through to protest against this election that is not democratic," said Florentin Aladja, an unemployed 23-year-old. 

"It's an uprising against President Talon. We are ready to fight. He must leave power."


- Exiled opposition -


Nearby, children were singing and dancing while opposition supporters brandished signs saying "inclusive election" and "return of those in exile".

Benin's main opposition figures either live in exile or have seen their candidacies rejected, due to electoral reforms rejected by a large part of the political class.

On Sunday, 5.5 million people will be eligible to vote in presidential elections. Two little-known opposition members, Alassane Soumanou and Corentin Kohoue, are running against Talon.  

In Save, further south, demonstrators also set up roadblocks. 

Shops were closed and hundreds of people were protesting in the town shouting "Talon out".

"We can't sell anything, otherwise we get in trouble," said a woman who sells food on the side of the road. 

One moto-taxi driver was hit by a mob, an AFP journalist at the scene saw, because he was wearing his work uniform.

But tensions seemed to have eased since earlier in the week, when the house of a parliamentarian who supports the president was burnt down.

On Wednesday, several policemen were patrolling the area. 

"It's really calm, there is no violence," 25-year-old Novice said. 

Tuesday evening, government spokesman Alain Orounla said they would "tolerate these small skirmishes... because Beninese need to vote."

In Save and Toui, residents still remember the violent crisis that erupted in the region after parliamentary elections in 2019. 

Thousands of protesters took to the streets and security forces fired live rounds, killing at least two civilians. About 50 policemen were also injured.

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