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Niger's opposition says it will boycott runoff election

Niger's opposition coalition says it will drop out of a presidential runoff vote scheduled for March 20. It has accused the government of fraud in the first round.

A coalition of opposition parties in Niger said that its jailed candidate, Hama Amadou (pictured above), would not

contest the runoff race,

claiming that the constitutional court was working with the government to ensure a second term for incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou.

"The Coalition for an Alternative has decided to suspend its participation in the electoral process and asks its representatives to withdraw from the electoral commission," it said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The statement justified the withdrawal by saying the constitutional court had violated procedures by announcing definitive first-round results on Tuesday. The results from the February 21 election showed Issoufou with 48.4 percent of the vote, short of the majority required to avoid a second round.

The coalition, which calls itself COPA 2016, also denounced the detention of Amadou, who has been in prison since November on charges relating to baby-trafficking.

Amadou, whose possible trial date on March 23 - three days after the runoff - has yet to be confirmed by the Court of Cassation, says the charges are politically motivated. COPA 2016 said Amadou had been "unfairly deprived of his freedom in violations of international standards of free, fair and democratic elections."

'Free and transparent'

Niger Wahl Präsident Mahamadou Issoufou gibt seine Stimme ab.

Issouffou has been in power since April 2011

The government has maintained that the February elections were "free and transparent," while African Union observers expressed general satisfaction with the organization of the vote despite some logistical problems and delays.

The electoral commission has so far not commented, but the government says the second round will go ahead even without the opposition participating.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and has experienced several attacks recently by Islamist extremists from neighboring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.

COPA 2016 unites some 20 political parties, including Amadou's MODEN.

tj/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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