Niger opposition leader Mahamane Ousmane has claimed that he narrowly won the country’s presidential election, as fresh violence erupted a day after official results gave victory to his rival by a wide margin.
“The compilation of results … which we have in our possession through our representatives in the various polling stations give us victory with 50.3 percent of the vote,” Ousmane said on Wednesday, according to a video of a speech he made in the southeastern town of Zinder.
According to provisional results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum picked up 55.75 percent of the vote in Sunday’s runoff and Ousmane 44.25 percent.
Police clashed with Ousmane supporters in the capital, Niamey, after CENI’s announcement on Tuesday, AFP news agency reported.
Sources in the city said at least one police station and shops owned by people perceived as being close to the government had been pillaged.
In Dosso, 100km (62 miles) south of Niamey, the offices of a pro-government party were damaged by fire, residents said.
Further violence erupted on Wednesday morning in Niamey’s central market area. Protesters threw stones and police responded with tear gas, and at least one petrol station was attacked, according to AFP.
In the afternoon, protesters confronted security forces in the southwestern town of Kollo, residents said.
Internet access was severely reduced on Wednesday in Niamey and Zinder.
Also on Wednesday, Moumouni Boureima, a former chief of staff of the armed forces, was arrested at his home, a security source said. He was accused of leading the disturbances after the election result was announced, the source told AFP.
Boureima is reportedly close to Hama Amadou, the man who had been expected to be the most formidable opposition candidate in the election. But Amadou was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking – a charge he says was politically motivated – and threw his support behind Ousmane.
The elections have been presented as the first democratic transition in the history of the coup-prone state. President Mahamadou Issoufou is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.
Bazoum, co-founder with Issoufou of the ruling PNDS party, picked up just over 39 percent of the vote in the first round on December 27. Ousmane won just under 17 percent.
In 1993, Ousmane became Niger’s first democratically elected president, only to be toppled in a coup three years later.
In his speech, Ousmane insisted “fraud” had been committed “pretty much everywhere in all of Niger’s regions”.
“You have expressed your clear willingness to break with poor government, you have expressed your desire for change, for an emerging Niger,” Ousmane said, addressing Nigeriens.
“This desire for change has been expressed by your voting massively in my favour,” he said.
In the constituency of Timia in the Agadez region, “a turnout of 103 percent was recorded, with a score of 99 percent in favour of the ruling party’s candidate,” he claimed.
“In these areas, our delegates were forced at gunpoint to sign certifications (of the vote) without any possibility of adding remarks,” he said.
CENI has not yet commented on the allegations of irregularities. An observer mission from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said the vote was held “under free, fair, credible and transparent conditions”.
It was marred, however, by two attacks that killed eight people in two regions where armed groups are active.
Seven of the victims were election workers in the western Tillaberi region, near the border with Mali, whose vehicle struck a landmine as they headed to the polls.
Bazoum, speaking at his party’s headquarters on Tuesday, said he would be “the president of all Nigeriens” and reached out to Ousmane.
“Knowing his wisdom, I would like to count on him,” Bazoum said.
“If the opposition has doubts [about the election], it should be able to have the evidence” to put to the Constitutional Court, which certifies the results, he said.
The leaders of Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad have congratulated Bazoum on his win.
The Francophonie organisation of French-speaking countries, meanwhile, condemned the post-election violence.
Niger is the world’s poorest nation according to the United Nations’ development rankings for 189 countries. It is also struggling with armed campaigns that have spilled over from Mali in the west and Nigeria in the southeast. Hundreds of lives have been lost and an estimated 460,000 people have fled their homes.