Benin tells EU ambassador to leave, citing ‘interference’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel receives President of Benin Patrice Talon (L) in Berlin, Germany, 30 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/KAMIL ZIHNIOGLU]

Benin has ordered the European Union’s ambassador to leave the country over alleged political interference, diplomatic sources said Wednesday (27 November).

“He has interfered too much in domestic affairs,” a senior Beninese diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

“He constantly calls on civil society to protest against the government.”

The source said Benin’s foreign minister had repeatedly warned the envoy, German diplomat Oliver Nette, over his “excesses” and he now had until December 1 to quit the West African nation.

A spokeswoman for the EU in Brussels confirmed the order to leave and said the bloc had been informed of the decision by the Benin authorities on November 20.

“For the EU, nothing can justify such a measure in the generally good relations that have existed up until now between the EU and Benin,” the spokeswoman said.

“We have demanded as a matter of urgency from our partners in Benin some clarification on the specific reasons for their decision, but we have not received them yet.”

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Former French colony Benin has typically been seen as among West Africa’s most stable democracies.

But it has been facing a political crisis since controversial parliamentary elections in April sparked mass protests.

President Patrice Talon, a former business magnate who came to power in 2016, has been accused of carrying out a concerted crackdown on his opponents that has driven key rivals into exile.

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

Talon, who made his fortune in cotton, hosted a political “dialogue” last month to try to calm 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.

The EU is a major financial donor to Benin and has given hundreds of million of euros to help develop good governance, agriculture and access to electricity.

The decision to expel the ambassador comes as the country faces economic pain after its giant eastern neighbour Nigeria halted imports and exports across their shared border in a bid to halt smuggling.

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