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Senegal's president concedes defeat in runoff election

By the CNN Wire Staff
March 26, 2012 -- Updated 0214 GMT (1014 HKT)
Senegalese president and presidential candidate Abdoulaye Wade on March 23, in Dakar.
Senegalese president and presidential candidate Abdoulaye Wade on March 23, in Dakar.
  • NEW: Macky Sall hails the "victory of the Senegalese people"
  • His supporters gather to celebrate at the candidate's headquarters
  • Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade was seeking a third term
  • Wade and Sall survived a field of 14 candidates in a February election

(CNN) -- Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade called rival Macky Sall to concede Sunday's runoff election, which Sall hailed as a "victory of the Senegalese people," state media reported.

The 85-year-old Wade faced off against his former prime minister and protege after he failed to win a majority during last month's controversial election. The two survived a field of 14 candidates during the February 27 election, with Wade receiving 32% of the vote and Sall getting 25%.

Sall garnered support from several of the failed candidates, who vowed solidarity against Wade as he sought a third term.

Sunday night, Sall's supporters gathered at the candidate's headquarters in Dakar, cheering and dancing to hip-hop songs in the streets.

"We want change because Senegal is poor and Abdoulaye Wade has done nothing," said Alpha Ba, 18, who voted for Sall. "Today we are proud to be Senegalese."

With 5.3 million voters registered in the country, early turnout was heavy with large crowds waiting to vote in the capital city.

Earlier in the day, the head of the European Union Observer team, Thijs Berman, said voting was going well and there were no signs of fraud.

In the first round of voting last month, Wade was booed by much of one crowd at a polling place in Dakar.

There were unconfirmed reports that he arranged for supporters to come cheer for him and intimidate opponents Sunday. Local radio reported the supporters were dispersed with tear gas when they attempted to enter the polling place.

"In the first round, the voters here spontaneously booed him and it hurt him," said voter Malick Sy. "They took it upon themselves to mobilize people who don't have anything to do with this polling place to come and defend him, basically. I don't think it is a good image for Senegalese democracy."

However, the incident was thought to be isolated in an otherwise peaceful day of voting.

"Before the first round, there was huge political tension and even casualties," Berman said. In the second round, "the situation is much calmer," he said. "There is still a lot of political tension but there has hardly been any violence."

Senegal, a small country on Africa's west coast, has been an outpost of democratic stability in a region with a history of electoral chaos, civil wars and coups. But deadly demonstrations broke out after the country's highest court cleared Wade to seek a third term in January, and protesters demanded that Wade give up his bid for a new mandate.

Opponents argue that the court was compromised and the constitution limits presidents to two terms. But Wade successfully argued that he is exempt because he took office in 2000, before the term limit was put in place.

Wade once was hailed as a visionary, but his popularity has plummeted. Protesters calling for Wade's ouster have clashed on the streets in recent months.

A presidential spokesman has accused opposition candidates and their supporters of fueling "urban guerrilla warfare" leading up to the February vote. But Wade's opponents blamed police for the escalating violence, saying they were responsible for some deaths during demonstrations in Dakar and Rufisque.

Journalist Nick Loomis contributed to this report.

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