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Niger’s Issoufou to Unite Opposition in Presidential Runoff

Mahamadou Issoufou, a mining engineer and former prime minister of Niger, may win a presidential runoff tomorrow that will return the world’s sixth-biggest uranium producer to civilian rule after he earned the support of four other parties.

Issoufou, 58, won 36.1 percent in the Jan. 31 first round. He will contest against Seini Oumarou, the 60-year-old candidate from ex-President Mamadou Tandja’s party, who obtained 23.2 percent. Four opposition candidates, who won a total of 28 percent, have vowed to support Issoufou.

The election follows a military coup that ousted Tandja in February 2010 after he tried to change the constitution and abolish term limits to extend his 11-year rule. It was the third army-led takeover in the country since 1996. Polls open at 8 a.m. and provisional results are expected by March 14, said Abdoulaye Mamoudou, a spokesman for the country’s electoral commission. The new president will be inaugurated April 6.

The winner may face pressure “to tighten the mining regulations and get better terms from future mining concessions,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, a political-risk analyst with New York-based DaMina Advisors, by phone yesterday.

Issoufou, who was technical director at Areva SA’s unit Societe des Mines de l’Air, vowed “continuity” in the industry. He was prime minister from 1993 to 1994.

Publish Revenue

“He is one of the few politicians to not be involved in cases related to mismanagement, corruption or misappropriation of public funds,” said Soumaila Tanko, an analyst with the Niamey-based Bureau d’Analyses Strategiques et Politiques du Niger, in a March 10 interview.

A constitutional referendum approved by voters in October restored term limits and will force the government to publish figures for oil and mining revenue. France’s Areva, the world’s largest supplier of nuclear equipment and services, mined 2,296 metric tons of uranium from Niger in 2009.

The winner may also face increased attacks by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which kidnapped seven people, including five French nationals Sept. 16.

Three of the hostages have since been released. The group was also responsible for kidnapping two French nationals from a restaurant in the capital, Niamey, on Jan. 7, according to the French defense ministry. The two were killed in a rescue attempt.

Agriculture, Drought

Both Issoufou and Oumarou say they will improve education and bolster agriculture in a country where just 15 percent of women are literate and 82 percent of the population relies on farming and animal herding, according to data from the World Food Programme and the CIA’s World Fact Book.

Niger is also recovering from a drought in 2009-10 that put about 7 million at risk of starvation, the WFP said in May. Growth may reach 5.1 percent in 2011 from 3.2 percent last year, if the country has a better harvest and aid donors return with political stability, according to the African Development Bank.

Both candidates have been jailed in recent years. Oumarou, who was prime minister under Tandja from 2007 to 2009, was detained briefly by the military junta in July over allegations of embezzlement. Issoufou was jailed under Tandja in 2009 after he and other opposition leaders called for a general strike to protest Tandja’s efforts to change the constitution to seek a third term.

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