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Benin opposition candidate jailed and accused of terrorism

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The leader of Benin's largest opposition party and first female presidential candidate has been arrested and is accused of "planning to assassinate several political figures", a government spokesman said on Monday.

Reckya Madougou's candidacy for the presidential election on April 11 was rejected by the electoral commission on Thursday for failing to garner signatures of support from 16 mayors or MPs.

Many opposition figures are already in exile or barred from office in Benin, a West African state which critics say has veered into authoritarianism under President Patrice Talon.

"Compatriots who were preparing to commit crimes have designated Reckya Madougou as their sponsor," Alain Orounla, spokesperson for the government of Benin, told reporters.

Madougou, 46, who is the head of the Les Démocrates party was "planning to assassinate several political figures," he added, stressing that it was a "very serious offense of terrorism".

She was arrested on Wednesday in Porto-Novo in the presence of Joël Aivo, another opposition candidate, who escaped at the time of the arrest.

'Financing terrorism'

She was "indicted for financing terrorism", said lawyer Renaud Agbodjo, adding that an investigation was open, but that no trial was "in sight for now".

A total of 20 would-be candidates officially handed in their documents to run for the presidency, but the electoral commission said only the three chosen had met the requirements.

Talon, a cotton magnate, who was elected into office in 2016 said at the time he wanted to serve a single term only, before changing his mind and announcing his candidacy in mid-January for the April vote.

He will face former minister Alassane Soumano and Corentin Kohoue, a dissident opposition figure.

Separately, Sebastien Ajavon, a key opposition leader who came in third in the last election and was convicted of drug trafficking in 2018 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, was sentenced in absentia on Monday to five years for forgery and fraud.

Ajavon is currently living in exile in France, like many of the country's opposition members.

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