Benin protestors rally against president's liberalisation drive
Over a thousand people took to the streets of Benin's economic capital of Cotonou on Thursday to protest against President Patrice Talon amid growing unease with his government's economic reforms.
A coalition of opposition parties and civil activists led the rally, which coincided with trade unions launching a two-day strike against the government's move to privatise port management.
"We wanted to say to President Talon that the people are hungry and that the poor governance that characterises their management enrages the people," said Cecil Adjevi, secretary general of an opposition party and a leader of the march.
"A large part of the people" are unhappy with Talon, said Alimatou Dramane, a trader in a Cotonou market.
"The president must take our demands into account. When people are going hungry, they must react," she said.
"We stand as one man against the savage privatisation of the regime," added Cedric Mankponse, a 24-year-old student.
On Wednesday, the local government refused to allow the march to take place, but Talon overruled the order in defence of free speech.
"The head of state specifies that the freedom of expression and opinion of the Beninese remains a cardinal value," Talon said in a statement issued by the presidency.
Elected just over a year ago, the 59-year-old former businessman won on a populist platform promising to revive Benin's economy, which is heavily reliant on agriculture and regional trade.
But his government's liberalisation reforms are stoking fears that jobs will be cut in key sectors of the economy, including the port of Cotonou and the cotton industry.
Other measures, such as the decision to banish street vendors from the capital, have also proved unpopular.
The unions of state companies working in the ports embarked on a two-day strike against the decision to privatise port management, which they say will lead to job cuts.
The unions hope to scuttle the privatisation plans after a "warning" strike last week and talks with the transport ministry.