Violent attack kills seven as Niger votes

·2-min read

Deadly violence has struck Niger's presidential elections, with seven members of the National Electoral Commission killed as their car hit an explosive device, the government says.

Three others were severely injured in the explosion which occurred in Gotheye village in the Tillaberi region in the country's west on Sunday.

The attack happened while Nigeriens were voting in the second round of the country's presidential elections. It was unclear if it was intended to target the electoral commission officials or if it was related to the election.

The West African nation has been battling rising attacks by Islamic extremists for years and Niger experts had warned that Sunday's elections could see violence.

In January at least 100 people were killed when extremists attacked two villages near the border with Mali.

Thousands of people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced despite the presence of thousands of regional and international troops.

"Niger has faced growing insecurity on many of its borders, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya," said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, senior analyst for the Sahel at the International Crisis Group.

"Growing insecurity is one of the major challenges that the upcoming administration will have to face," he said.

Former foreign affairs minister Mohamed Bazoum, who received about 39 per cent of the vote in the first round in December, is running against former president Mahamane Ousmane, who won nearly 17 per cent of that vote, according to the official results.

The winner of Sunday's vote will succeed President Mahamadou Issoufou who is stepping down after serving two terms, in accordance with Niger's constitution.

Mr Issoufou's decision to respect the constitution has been widely hailed and paves the way for Niger's first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since its independence from France in 1960. The West African nation has seen four coups.

After voting at the city hall of Niamey, the capital, Mr Issoufou told journalists he was proud of Nigeriens for their political maturity and for setting a strong democratic example.

"I'm proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history to transfer power to another democratically elected president. It's a major event in the political life of our country," said Mr Issoufou.

Mr Issoufou's chosen successor is Mr Bazoum, 71, a long-time Cabinet minister who is from Niger's small ethnic Arab minority.

After voting, Mr Bazoum said he had just spent several weeks in the country's interior visiting villages in the hope that voting would "take place in a calm, disciplined and friendly atmosphere".