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Former Benin leader returns from exile amid crisis

Benin’s former leader Thomas Boni Yayi (in white) 2nd L, white)after arriving in in Cotonou on Wednesday

Cotonou, Benin | AFP | Benin’s former leader Thomas Boni Yayi flew home Wednesday but hopes of an immediate meeting with President Patrice Talon were quickly dashed amid a rolling political crisis.

Boni Yayi had quit the West African nation in June ostensibly for medical treatment, after being held under de-facto house arrest following his criticism of one-sided parliamentary elections that sparked protests.

He had been due to meet rival Talon alongside a delegation from regional bloc ECOWAS and then jet out of the country immediately after the encounter, sources said earlier.

Government spokesman Alain Orounla described the planned meeting as a “festive meeting between two great statesmen,” which would take place “in the coming hours”.

However an ally of Boni Yayi, speaking anonymously, said the meeting did not take place because the former leader “was convinced that the main issue, the re-running of legislative elections, would not be addressed”.

“He, along with other opposition leaders, believes that Patrice Talon will make promises he won’t keep, as usual,” he added.

Upon he arrival back home, Boni Yayi was welcomed by a hundred supporters and went off instead to visit a fellow opposition leader and former president Nicephore Soglo.

Boni Yayi’s reappearance in Benin comes after Talon, a former business magnate in power since 2016, called for his return as he seeks to ease tensions set off by the April vote.

Parties allied to Talon won all the seats at those polls after opposition groups were effectively banned from standing.

Benin has a reputation as one of the most stable democracies in west Africa.

But Talon has been accused of a concerted crackdown on his opponents that has driven key rivals into exile.

Talon hosted a political “dialogue” last month to try to paper over the tensions but several main opposition groups were not invited to the event.

The country subsequently tweaked its constitution and electoral law but the opposition complained that the changes fell well short of their expectations.

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