March 13, 2011 / 9:51 PM / 8 years ago

Niger vote gets thumbs up from regional obervers

* Election was free and fair, verdict should be respected

* Provisional results due on Monday

NIAMEY, March 13 (Reuters) - Niger’s presidential run-off election was free and fair and the two candidates should respect its verdict, regional observers said on Sunday.

Nigeriens voted on Saturday, a year after soldiers ousted ex-president Mamadou Tandja for outstaying his term in office in the uranium-producing state. Provisional results from the poll, which pits opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou against a Tandja party ally Seyni Oumarou, are due on Monday.

West African regional body ECOWAS and African Union observers missions said they were satisfied with the electoral process, adding that voting and vote counting had been carried out without any major incident.

“The AU mission notes the transparency and fairness of the March 12 elections ... the mission is appealing to the two candidates to respect the results of polls,” said a statement from the mission, read on Niger’s national radio.

Some 2,000 observers were deployed to monitor the poll.

A desert nation whose uranium riches have drawn billions of dollars of investments, mainly from French nuclear giant Areva, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, has suffered repeated coups since 1960 independence and has recently also suffered attacks by local al Qaeda militants.

Ghousmane Abdourahamane, chairman of Niger’s electoral commission said participation had been at about 35 percent.

Favourite to win is Issoufou, who scored 36 percent in the January first round and has since won endorsements from defeated candidates representing around 30 percent of the total vote.

In contrast to an election dispute in the former regional giant Ivory Coast, Niger’s presidential vote passed off smoothly and junta leader General Salou Djibo has won international praise for his professed readiness to step down.

Both candidates pledged on Saturday to respect the outcome and that any challenges would be through legal channels. (Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalaatchi, Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Tim Cocks and Elizabeth Piper)

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