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Senegal's Sall hails new era after poll victory

By Fran Blandy

DAKAR (AFP) - Senegal's Macky Sall on Monday hailed a new era after triumphing over veteran leader Abdoulaye Wade in a presidential poll lauded the world over as an example for African democracy.

Senegal was jubilant after an election that brought Wade's increasingly controversial rule to a crushing end and allayed fears that a disputed result might bring chaos to a country regarded as a regional beacon of democracy.

"Tonight, a new era begins for Senegal," Sall said in the early hours of Monday after his victory became clear in the previous day's presidential run-off vote, prompting thousands to spill into the streets in celebration.

Excitement was palpable in the capital Dakar as Senegalese woke up to the news that Wade had accepted defeat, scotching fears that the 85-year-old would try to cling on to power.

People smiled and congratulated each other on street corners for a show of democracy hailed by former colonial power France as "very good news for Africa in general and for Senegal in particular".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Ban had "commended outgoing President Wade for his gracious and statesmanlike actions," in a telephone conversation, said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Ban had also spoken to Sall and urged both men to work together during the handover of power "in the interest of the country", Nesirky added.

US President Barack Obama congratulated Sall and the people of Senegal, praising the west African nation as "a leading example of good governance and democracy at work".

Obama also paid tribute to Wade "for his leadership and friendship to the United States" during his presidency.

The African Union praised the "maturity" of Senegal's democracy and the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the vote was "a great victory for democracy in Senegal and in Africa.

"Senegal is a great example for Africa," she said.
"The real winner remains the Senegalese people," said 50-year-old Sall, in his victory speech.

"I will be the president of all Senegalese," said the former prime minister, who was Wade's protege before falling out of favour.

The country's press also praised the result as a victory for the people and for democracy, with Le Quotidien newspaper praising Wade's "honourable" exit.

But there was still some bitterness over Wade's controversial bid to seek a third term and the deadly riots this had provoked.

"It is good that Wade congratulated Macky Sall," said Alioune Tine, a prominent leader of the anti-Wade protests. "It enhances him, and it enhances the Senegalese democracy," he added.

"But in reality he is leaving through the back door."

Hugely popular at the start of his 12-year rule in 2000, Wade lost support following accusations of nepotism, public finance scandals, rising food prices and power cuts.

His critics said that instead of tackling the basic needs of the people, Wade became preoccupied with grandiose legacy projects.

These included a 50-metre (164-foot) bronze "African renaissance" statue, that cost 15 million euros ($20 million).

Just days before's Sunday's vote, Wade had said the idea he could lose was as absurd "as the sky falling on our heads", raising fears he might try to cling to power.

But during campaigning he had also promised: "I will do no less than (Abdou) Diouf," his predecessor who was lauded for bowing out gracefully, telephoning Wade 12 years ago to congratulate him on his victory.

Wade honoured that promise Sunday night, swallowing a bitter loss and calling his former protege to congratulate him.

Even before he had conceded defeat however, thousands of people spilled into the streets on Sunday night, chanting, dancing and sounding car horns as fireworks lit up the sky.

It was a marked change from the riots that rocked the capital's streets for the four weeks up to the first-round February 26 vote as the opposition protested Wade's bid for a third term.

Having served his constitutional two terms, Wade got the backing of the country's highest court for his argument that since the law was not retroactive, constitutional changes in 2008 meant he could run again.

The unrest claimed six lives in Senegal, hailed as one of west Africa's success stories and the only country in the region never to have suffered a military coup.

In an interview with AFP this month, Sall, Senegal's first president to be born since independence in 1960, said "several emergencies" loomed.

They included a "dramatic public finance situation" as well as a food crisis in the north where some 800,000 Senegalese are going hungry due to a drought gripping the Sahel region.

Sall said he also wanted to halve the size of the government -- slashing the cabinet by some 20 ministers -- and reduce Senegal's diplomatic representation abroad.

He would use the savings to lower the prices of basic goods, he said.