Niger opposition refuses to recognise presidential poll results

Niger's Commission electoral indenpendante (CENI) members check the results of the presidential election on February 22, 2016 at the palais des congres in Niamey, a day after the country's 1st round presidential and legislatives elections (AFP Photo/Issouf Sanogo)

Niamey (AFP) - Niger's opposition parties on Tuesday said they did not recognise the first partial results of the weekend presidential election despite claims by the authorities that the vote met "international standards".

"We cannot recognise them such as they have been proclaimed so far," said Amadou Babacar Cisse, spokesman for the COPA 2016 opposition coalition in response to results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).

A total of 7.5 million people were eligible to vote across the country on the edge of the Sahara desert, where security is a growing concern after attacks by jihadists from neighbouring Nigeria, Mali and Libya.

President Mahamadou Issoufou, known as the "Zaki" or "Lion" in Hausa, the majority language in Niger, is seeking a second term and faces three main challengers.

The 63-year-old leader told AFP last week that he was "absolutely" confident of a swift victory in the first round of the poll.

Should he fail to clinch an outright victory, his rivals, who have consistently accused him of planning to rig the result, have agreed to unite behind whoever scores highest among them for the run-off vote.

Opposition spokesman Cisse said Tuesday that the opposition was ready to ask supporters "to resist" should Issoufou claim victory, but refused to say what the opposition exactly planned to do.

He said that in Niger's second biggest city, Zinder, and in other places "results are coming in from fake polling stations" with "the grave complicity of CENI".

But Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou denied allegations of vote-rigging, saying the poll met "international standards."

"If we lose we will leave without any problem, if we win we will stay," he said.

- No trend clear yet -

CENI so far has announced results from only around 10 percent of more than 300 communes, making it impossible to estimate a trend.

The African Union, which deployed 40 observers, said it was generally satisfied with the organisation's handling of the vote despite noting some delays.

On Sunday, polling stations stayed open late into the night due to voting delays.

After ballot papers failed to be delivered in some areas on time, voting took place for a second day in parts of the vast nation, such as Agadez in the north, Zinder in the south and Tahoua in the west.

In the capital Niamey, a bastion of support for jailed former prime minister Hama Amadou, several sources said he picked up the most votes in Sunday's first round.

Amadou had campaigned from behind bars after being arrested in November over his alleged role in a baby-trafficking scandal.

"As promised, he will go from prison to the presidency," a spokesman for Amadou said.

Though blessed with an abundance of uranium, coal and oil, Niger is one of the poorest nations on the planet.