PROTESTERS in Benin were locked in a tense standoff with police and soldiers Thursday after violence broke out following controversial parliamentary polls held without a single opposition candidate.
Hours after initial results showed a record low turnout in Sunday’s election, soldiers and large numbers of police deployed on Wednesday across the capital Cotonou.
Supporters of former president Boni Yayi, who led calls for a boycott of the ballot, took to the streets. They erected makeshift barriers of burning tyres, and chanting slogans against President Patrice Talon.
Protesters have torched businesses, hurled stones, and smashed the windows of government buildings. Police fired tear gas to break up crowds.
They continued their protests overnight, and remained on the streets Thursday.
‘Nobody has slept,’ said one demonstrator on Thursday morning, who gave his name as Justin B.
‘Around 10 pm, they cut the light and fired live ammunition,’ he claimed, pointing to two empty bullet casings and bloodstains on the floor. ‘Two people were seriously injured, a man and a woman,’ he told AFP.
In the Cadjehoun district of Cotonou, where Yayi Boni’s house is, a resident also reported to have heard shots fired.
‘We do not know at all what will happen now, but we feel that it is bad,’ said one woman, but added that it still felt safe enough for children to go to school on Thursday.
The small West African state was held up as a model for democracy, but the situation has raised warnings from civil society and rights groups inside and outside Benin.
Tough new eligibility criteria effectively barred opposition parties from fielding any candidates in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
On the day itself, more than three-quarters of the country’s five million registered voters stayed at home.
Turnout has never dropped below 50 percent since the country’s transition to democracy in 1990.