Polls open in Niger presidential vote

31 January 2011 - 11:56 By Sapa-AFP

Niger's polling stations opened on Monday at 8:00 am (0700 GMT), says witnesses, as voters were called on to elect a civilian president to end a military dictatorship in the impoverished African state.

The Sahelian country's 6.7 million registered voters must choose between three former allies of deposed ex-president Mamadou Tandja and a long-time opponent of the former leader to head the country under the shadow of the growing threat of Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Voting booths will remain open until 7:00 pm and should no winner emerge from the first round, a second round is scheduled for March 12, after which a civilian will be named head of the African state on April 6.

The ruling junta took power in February last year to end a crisis triggered by then president Tandja's attempts to extend his rule beyond the constitutionally allowed limits.