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Senegal set for tense presidential poll

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Senegal's veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade and his challenger Macky Sall have made their final appeals to voters ahead of weekend presidential polls in which the incumbent is seeking to extend his rule into his 90s.

The 85-year-old Wade held a "victory tour" in Dakar on Friday where music rang out as his convoy made its way through the streets on the last day of campaigning ahead of the cliffhanger election in the west African nation.

Having failed to deliver a crushing first-round victory a month ago, Wade faces a challenge from his former prime minister Sall, 50, who has gathered the full weight of the opposition behind him.

Sall was to hold a mass rally in an outlying suburb of Dakar along with 12 candidates who lost in the February 26 first round and have thrown their support behind the challenger as they vow to elect "anyone but Wade”.

Election violence

While laden with suspense, the run-up to the second round has been calm compared with that of the first round, marred by a month of riots over Wade's candidacy that left six dead and over 150 injured.

The octogenarian's efforts to seek re-election by circumventing a constitutional term limit earned him stiff rebukes from abroad and raised fears for the stability of one of Africa's oldest democracies.
 
Wade polled 34.8 per cent in the first round and said he failed to win outright because "the West was campaigning against me”.

The odds are in Sall's favour heading into the election, with all the runners-up spread throughout the country to campaign for him, including music star-turned-politician Youssou Ndour.

The opposition obtained a total 65 per cent of the vote in the first round, but turnout was low and it is not clear whether voters will follow their respective leaders in backing Sall against the incumbent.

"Let nobody question our victory. Anyone who tries to steal our victory will face the full mobilisation of the population," Sall said at a rally this week.

While Sall won the backing of the opposition, Wade scored the official support of a leading member of the country's most powerful Islamic brotherhood, the Mourides, seen as key in the Muslim majority nation.

The head of the 90-person European Union observer mission, Thijs Berman, called Friday for "a respect of democratic rules", adding that "violence achieves nothing".

Wade defiant

Meanwhile, African Union observer chief, former Nigerian president Olesegun Obasanjo, said: "Senegal is a grand democracy. I hope it will prove this once again in this run-off election and become a model for other African countries."

Wade has remained defiant in the face of criticism. "There is only one hypothesis. I win. The possibility of my defeat is absurd," he told local television station Africa7 on Wednesday.

"It is as if I say the sky is going to fall on our heads in one minute. It is absurd because the sky is not going to fall on our heads."

A Wade victory would stoke fears of violence after his mere presence in the race prompted opposition supporters to take to the streets.

Despite having served two terms in office, a limit he himself introduced, Wade says later changes to the constitution allow him to serve two more successive mandates.

Officially the second oldest African leader after Zimbabwe's 88-year-old Robert Mugabe, some claim Wade is in fact pushing 90 due to discrepancies in the way birth certificates were filed at the time he was born in a nation where the median age is now 18.

In 2007, he won elections in the first round with 55 per cent, but his popularity has plunged in recent years amid rising food prices and power cuts which crippled economic activity last year but were repaired in time for the election campaign.


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