Troops in Benin maintained a tight clamp on protests Friday after two days of post-election violence that left up to three people dead.
Soldiers firing automatic rifles on Thursday broke up hundreds of protestors demonstrating against controversial parliamentary polls, inflicting casualties, an eye-witness said.
“They made a brutal incursion,” said the witness, a close relative of former president Thomas Boni Yayi, who had led calls for a boycott of the ballot and whose house has become a focal point of protests.
“They fired bursts of bullets.”
The small West African state’s vibrant political scene has long made it a model for democracy. But rights groups say there is now a major risk of a return to authoritarianism.
Parliamentary elections last Sunday were marked by low turnout and widespread anger at changes to electoral rules that effectively barred opposition parties from fielding candidates.
The final results, issued late Thursday by Joseph Djogbenou, president of Benin’s Constitutional Court, showed that all seats were won by the only two parties allowed to take part – both allied to President Patrice Talon.
Peoples of Bénin Republic call on President Talon to resign pic.twitter.com/nt63Y7Nvju
— Julian Frank (@JulianF96534868) May 2, 2019
Turnout was 27.1 percent, a record low since Benin transited to democracy nearly 40 years ago, although higher than the 23 percent given in preliminary results, Djogbenou said.
The protests began hours after the initial results were released on Wednesday.
Large numbers of troops and riot police – as well as hundreds of protesters manning burning barricades – squared off in the streets of Benin’s economic capital Cotonou.
On Thursday, soldiers deployed in force, clearing the streets with gunfire.
The witness said that three people were killed and that other protesters fled as soldiers open fire to disperse the crowds.
A video seen by AFP showed soldiers firing as protestors fled the gunfire.
The images showed some protesters lying on the ground, but it was not immediately possible to verify if they had been shot.
Djogbenou, who is close to the presidency, claimed the “irregularities” and “disturbances” recorded during polling were not enough to “compromise the validity of the vote.”