benin update: president and coming elections

COTONOU, March 19 (Reuters) – Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi has said he believes an attack by gunmen on his convoy last week was an assassination bid by enemies opposed to his campaign to stamp out corruption in the small West African state.

Yayi, a technocrat banker who was elected last year on a platform promising change, escaped unhurt when unidentified attackers opened fire on Thursday while he was campaigning in the north for parliamentary elections to be held on Sunday.

Yayi, who will seek to consolidate his political position in Sunday’s legislative elections, told church pastors he met in northern Benin at the weekend that he believed the attack was in response to his declared policy to eliminate graft.

“Some people are interested in assassinating me to discourage me in my battle against corruption,” the president said at the meeting, which was attended by a Reuters reporter.

“We will not rest in this fight against the corruption which is eating away at our country,” Yayi said.

Yayi’s election a year ago marked the end of three decades of domineering rule by a small political elite in the former French colony, where a third of the population live below the poverty line and unemployment is rife.

A former head of the West African Development Bank and a political newcomer, Yayi replaced ex-army major Mathieu Kerekou, who had led the small cotton-producing country for all but five of the previous 33 years.

Having won more than 74 percent of votes in the second round of the presidential election, Yayi will be seeking in Sunday’s polls to win control of the National Assembly, which has been dominated by allies of Kerekou.

Until Thursday’s shooting, campaigning for the March 25 parliamentary elections had gone smoothly in a country seen as one of the more politically stable in turbulent West Africa.

By Samuel Elijah

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