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Senegalese Celebrate Diouf’s Loss

March 21, 2000

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) _ Thousands of jubilant people took to the streets in Senegal’s capital to celebrate the announcement that President Abdou Diouf was accepting his loss in a runoff election against fiery opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade.

The brief expression of joy Monday marked what was once unthinkable in Africa _ a sitting president conceding election defeat in what looked to be a triumph for democratic change on a continent plagued by fraudulent balloting, coups and civil wars.

Some were surprised that Diouf had willingly given up power after an uninterrupted 40-year dynasty by his Socialist Party.

``Am I dreaming?″ laughed Boubacar Diop, a 57-year-old taxi driver who was driving a car full of celebrating youths. ``I don’t think I’m still sleeping.″

Diouf telephoned Wade early Monday to acknowledge his loss in Sunday’s runoff.

He told Wade that being president is ``a difficult mission and I wish you all the luck in the world,″ Diouf’s campaign manager, Khalifa Sall, told The Associated Press.

Diouf’s concession was also read on state radio. While no date has been set for the inauguration of the new president, it is expected to occur on April 3.

Ruling parties who control campaign funds, and often electoral authorities, rarely lose elections in Africa. The few African countries that have had election handovers from one government to another _ including South Africa, Zambia, Benin and Cape Verde _ have become icons of peaceful change.

Diouf’s Socialist Party had been in power since independence from France in 1960. Wade had warned of a popular revolt if Diouf, 64, won a fourth term.

Wade had told his supporters Sunday to ``remain vigilant″ for ``serious election anomalies.″ But after Diouf conceded, the angry campaign cry of ``Sopi!″ _ meaning ``Change!″ in the Wolof language _ suddenly turned into a victory cheer.

``This is destiny. This is paradise!″ cried Serigne Fallou, a 41-year-old Wade backer who camped all night outside the candidate’s home in Dakar. ``We are in heaven today.″

Critics accuse Diouf, who came to power in 1981, of fostering a corrupt elite and ignoring the country’s poor. In recent years, unemployment and crime have increased in Dakar.

Wade, 73, tapped a growing desire among poor voters for change. Nearly two-thirds of the West African nation’s population is illiterate; hospitals and roads are badly neglected.

Senegal, with a population of 10 million in an area about the size of South Dakota, has had a reputation as one of Africa’s most stable nations, and one of the few to hold regular elections.

It has a vibrant trading economy despite few natural resources and its status as one of the world’s poorest countries.

The vote featured a battle of personalities, with little emphasis on policy or ideology.

Although official results were unavailable Monday, private and public radio stations said early returns showed Wade winning by a large margin in cities and major towns.

Wade’s campaign spokesman, Momar Thiam, said he won more than 60 percent of the vote. However, this could not be independently confirmed and Diouf’s campaign headquarters was nearly abandoned Monday.

Reports of violence, ballot theft and other irregularities marred the vote. Several injuries and dozens of arrests were reported.

In Dakar, voter turnout appeared lighter than in the first-round balloting, in which Diouf won 41 percent compared to 31 percent for Wade, but neither won the simple majority needed for election.

Diouf is planning to lead his party’s parliamentary opposition and has no plans to give up politics, Sall said, noting ``He is not the kind of man to abandon a sinking ship.″

Meanwhile, Wade left Dakar on Monday to pay homage to his Muslim religious mentor in the town of Touba, about 120 miles to the east.

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