One person was killed and at least three were wounded by gunfire on Thursday, local officials said, after troops in Benin Republic cleared protesters in a flashpoint city three days before President Patrice Talon seeks re-election.
Protests have erupted in the West African country’s opposition bastions ahead of Sunday’s vote, which critics say is skewed in Talon’s favour after the main opposition leaders were sidelined in a crackdown.
A column of military vehicles arrived early Thursday to disperse demonstrators in the central city of Savè, a flare point of opposition protests two years ago, where makeshift barricades of trees and tyres blocked a major road.
Troops initially fired tear gas, an AFP correspondent at the scene said, and then more detonations were heard as a soldier fired in the air from an armoured vehicle. It was not clear if they were live or anti-riot rounds.
The director of a local dispensary in Savè said he had taken in one dead and six wounded by gunshots.
“We admitted them at our clinic… One dead from a live round and six with bullet wounds,” said Jose Godjo, head of the Boni clinic in Savè. “All the wounded have been transferred to a hospital in Savè.”
Savè Mayor Denis Oba Chabi confirmed one person had died from gunshot wounds and he had transported three of the wounded to the hospital in his car.
“We have no interest in burying more dead here,” he told AFP, after explaining he tried to negotiate with protesters before the army arrived.
Savè was deserted on Thursday afternoon with the army positioned around the city and on the main roads. Sporadic gunfire was still being heard around the city, an AFP correspondent said.
Benin, lying between Togo and Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea, was once praised as a vibrant multi-party democracy in an often troubled region.
But critics say the country spiralled into authoritarianism after Talon was first elected in 2016.
The cotton tycoon faces two little-known rivals on Sunday most key opposition figures either live in exile or have been disqualified from running.
Talon, 62-year-old, is campaigning on his economic record, which includes improvements to key infrastructure such as roads, water and energy supplies.
In the final days of campaigning, the economic capital Cotonou was adorned with blue posters of Talon and his running mate, Mariam Talata.
But the usual fervour of presidential campaigns was missing.
“Since the return of the multiparty system in 1990, this is the first time the country has organised a presidential election like this: pluralist in appearance, but without choice in reality,” said Expedit Ologou, a Beninese political scientist.
“And where the re-election of the president seems only a formality.”