Senegalese contender takes shots at president on eve of elections

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The Independent Online

On the eve of Senegal's contentious election showdown, the challenger accused President Abdul Diouf of preparing to fix the vote and repeated warnings of a spontaneous revolution by angry voters.

Opposition politician Abdoulaye Wade said he would not be responsible if public insurrection resulted from a Diouf win in Sunday's runoff vote.

"History shows that it is rare for a revolution to be organized," Wade told journalists.

Wade added that he was a "liberal" politician and was not planning to lead a revolt.

However, he predicted that Diouf would use fraud in a bid to win and accused the incumbent of replacing election officials recently in some ballot stations in the capital, where Wade won most of his support in the first round on Feb. 27.

Senegal's Interior Ministry, which is supervising the voting, said Saturday that everything was in place for a free and fair ballot, private radio station Sud FM reported.

Army units were patrolling the southern Casamance province, where separatist rebels launched scattered attacks during the first round.

Campaigning ended Friday with Diouf - who has a reputation of aloofness - giving a flurry of animated press conferences. Wade held several mass rallies in major cities during the final days of the campaign.

The contest, the most contentious since Senegal's independence from France in 1960, is seen by some observers as a test for democracy in Africa.

Ruling parties in Africa, which often control campaign funds and even electoral authorities, rarely lose at the ballot box.

Senegal is one of the few countries in Africa to hold regular elections although the ruling Socialist Party has easily won previous polls. Sunday's runoff is the first time voting has gone to a second round, and it's likely to be a close race.

The United States called on both candidates Friday to abide by the will of the Senegalese people. "All parties must avoid confrontations so that the electoral process proceeds peacefully for the good of the country," State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said in Washington.

Diouf, whose Socialist Party has ruled Senegal since independence, won 41 percent support in the first round on Feb. 27, compared to 31 percent for Wade.

For the runoff, however, Wade has the backing of five of the seven other contenders in the previous round. Djibo Ka, who came fourth with 7 percent, has thrown his support behind Diouf - though many of his followers say they will not follow suit.

Diouf's backers point to Senegal's reputation as one of Africa's most stable nations, with a vibrant trading economy despite few natural resources.

Critics accuse Diouf of fostering a corrupt elite and ignoring the country's poor since he became president in 1981.

Nearly 2.7 million people were registered for the first round of voting, but it was unclear how many actually cast ballots. The vote was marred by sporadic violence and other irregularities, but judged relatively smooth and fair by international observers.