Nigerien voters have cast ballots in municipal and regional elections, the day after an attack by the Boko Haram armed group killed dozens of people, according to local officials.
A senior local official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency that Saturday’s attack left 27 dead and was of “unprecedented savagery”, with dozens of assailants laying to waste 60 percent of the town of Toumour, burning down up to 1,000 homes and the central market
Issa Lemine, governor of the southeastern region of Diffa, went to Toumour to attend the victims’ burials on Sunday.
The Diffa region is home to 120,000 refugees from neighbouring Nigeria – where Boko Haram launched a bloody campaign of violence in 2009 – as well as 110,000 people internally displaced within Niger, according to the UN.
An official of the Bosso region that includes Toumour said the elections did not go ahead there on Sunday. The vote had been postponed repeatedly because of attacks in many parts of the country.
Some 7.4 million people are eligible to vote in the polls across 266 municipalities on Sunday. Voting was due to end at 6pm (17:00 GMT).
The governing Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) is the overwhelming favourite in Sunday’s elections, held two weeks before a landmark presidential vote.
The PNDS’ presidential candidate, 60-year-old Mohamed Bazoum, is the runaway frontrunner in the December 27 ballot, which should mark the first peaceful transfer of power in the country.
Incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou, 68, will not contest that election because his two terms are up. First elected in 2011 and then again in 2016, Issoufou has won praise for his decision to step aside for a successor, unlike other presidents – including in West Africa – who have pushed through constitutional changes in order to extend their presidencies.
Bazoum, a former interior and foreign minister under Issoufou, is among 30 candidates in the race.
Last month, Niger’s constitutional court blocked main opposition leader Hama Amadou, 70, from running over a 2017 conviction for baby-smuggling, a case he claimed was politically motivated.
Fighters with links to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group have increasingly mounted attacks across West Africa’s Sahel region in recent years despite the presence of thousands of regional and foreign troops. Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
The violence has hit Mali and Burkina Faso the hardest, rendering large swathes of those countries ungovernable, but it has also spilled into western Niger, which shares long and porous borders with its two neighbours.
Niger has also endured unrest in its southeast from Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province armed group, a breakaway group from Boko Haram.