Benin groups demand release of 'poison plot' accused

Civil society groups in Benin on Tuesday demanded the release of four people accused of trying to poison the president who remain jailed despite an appeals court ruling that dismissed the charges against them.

The alleged "poison plot" against President Thomas Boni Yayi raised eyebrows in the small west African nation, with critics suggesting the charges were cooked up to silence one of the president's prominent rivals.

Among the alleged accomplices who remain in jail are the president's niece, his personal doctor, a former commerce minister and his bodyguard.

An appeals judge last week confirmed the May ruling of a lower court that there was no evidence to support claims that the group conspired to assassinate the head of state and called for the four to be released.

"We don't understand why they are in detention," said Urbain Amegbedji, head of the Afica Obota human rights group, citing the judge's ruling.

Judes Lodjou of the opposition coalition Unity Makes the Nation, suggested the authorities were stalling and "do not want to release these people."

State Prosecutor Justin Gbenameto told AFP that group was being held pending an appeal to the supreme court.

The authorities have claimed that Patrice Talon, a cotton magnate and former Yayi ally turned rival, orchestrated the scheme to replace the president's heart medicine with poison.

Talon and the president are suspected to have fallen out over political and financial disputes.

Benin is seeking Talon's extradition from France, where he has a residence, with a Paris court expecded to rule on the request in September.