Niger Elections: 7 poll officials killed in landmine blast

At least seven Niger’s electoral commission (CENI) members were killed during the country’s presidential election runoff when their vehicle hit a mine and exploded in the Tillaberi region.

“They were leaving to drop off the ballot boxes and the members of the polling station,” Harouna Mounkaila, vice president of the commission’s local branch said.

The attack took place in the rural commune of Dargol.

Armed groups have increased their attacks over the past few weeks in the run up to Sunday’s presidential polls. The ruling governing party candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, is facing former President Mahamane Ousmane.

Tillaberi is in the tri-border area of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali where armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have strengthened their foothold, launching frequent attacks and making swathes of the western portion of the Sahel ungovernable.

Thousands of soldiers were deployed nationwide for the vote, set to usher in a peaceful handover between elected presidents, a first since Niger’s independence from France in 1960.

Outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou’s decision to voluntarily step down after two five-year terms was welcomed in a region where many leaders have tried to cling to power.

“I’m proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to be able to pass the baton to another democratically elected president,” Issoufou said as he voted at city hall in the capital, Niamey.

Sixty-one-year-old Bazoum, Issoufou’s right-hand man and anointed heir, is widely seen as the favourite after securing 39.3 percent of ballots in the first round of voting on December 27. Ousmane, 71 – who became the country’s first democratically elected president in 1993, only to be toppled in a coup three years later – had garnered 16.9 percent.