Bazoum leading as Niger prepares for election results

Former minister Mohamed Bazoum is hoping to win without requiring a second round

Former minister Mohamed Bazoum on Friday looked set to be confirmed with a solid lead after the first round of Niger's weekend presidential vote as the electoral commission said it will unveil results Saturday.

The commission had provisionally earmarked Friday for the publication of the results but said this would now occur at 10 am (0900 GMT) Saturday at the Palais des Congres in Niamey.

Provisional results of 30 contenders in all showed Bazoum, a close ally of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, as having garnered 1.4 million votes, to 675,000 for former president Mahamane Ousmane, backed by main opposition leader Hama Amadou, who was unable to stand owing to a criminal conviction.

Former prime ministers Seini Oumarou and Albade Abouba respectively were on course for 345,000 and 260,000 votes.

Insecurity overshadowed campaigning, with Niger battered by jihadists on its southwestern border with Mali as well as its southeastern frontier with Nigeria. Five years of violence have cost hundreds of lives with many more displaced.

Bazoum, 60, a former interior and foreign minister, hopes to clinch victory in the first round, which would be a first in the former French colony that also hopes to see a first peaceful handover between elected presidents.

Issoufou, who was elected in 2011 after the country's last coup in 2010, is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms.

In a New Year radio address Issoufou hailed the election as "a new, successful page in our country's democratic history."

Bazoum campaigned on promises of emphasising security and education.

If a second round proves necessary, it will take place on February 20.