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Senegal tense ahead of presidential vote

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Senegal's election commission has called for calm ahead of Sunday's presidential runoff between veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade and his challenger Macky Sall.

The commission on Saturday urged both candidates not to declare premature victory in the runoff in which the controversial incumbent is seeking to extend his rule past his 90th birthday.

Olesegun Obasanjo, African Union observer chief and former Nigerian president, met both candidates and urged them to "preserve the democratic tradition and heritage in Senegal".

The head of the European Union observer mission, Thijs Berman, called for the "respect of democratic rules" in the West African country.

The elections commission noted several clashes between rival supporters during the election campaign, which was relatively calm compared with that ahead of the first vote on February 26, when riots left six dead.

Victory tour

The 85-year-old Wade had already 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.

Wade paused greet thousands of supporters at a rally called the "March Bleue" on the eve of the final round of voting.

The president stood in a moving car and waved at the cheering crowds who followed his convoy.

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 held 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”.

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.

"The mood in Dakar is very different to what it was in the days preceding the first round vote," Al Jazeera's Azad Essa reported from the capital.

"Whereas there had been a lockdown in some parts of the city centre back then, it has been business as usual in the city leading up to tomorrow's runoff vote. The markets have been bustling, and traffic has been flowing freely in most parts of the capital."

Stones thrown

But our correspondent said there had been a few reports of clashes and stone throwing between opposition youth supporters and Wade supporters, although no reports of injuries.
 
Wade polled 34.8 per cent in the first round and said he failed to win outright because "the West was campaigning against me”.

Sall placed second in the first round, gaining 26.5 per cent of ballots. But the odds appear to be in Sall's favour heading into Sunday's runoff, with many of the other first round candidates, who collectively won 65 per cent of the vote, spreading out across the country to campaign for him.

Youssou Ndour, the influential music star-turned-politician who was barred from standing in the first round, has also backed Sall.

"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.


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