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11.02.2005 Togo

Tensions rise with Togo neighbors

By AP

LOME, Togo (AP) -- Police in Lome have used tear gas to disperse an opposition demonstration by hundreds of people as tension heightened between Togo and its neighbors over what West African and other leaders call a Togolese military coup d'etat.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, leader of the most powerful country in the region, decided against going to Togo with four other West African leaders after a plane carrying his advance team was refused permission to land in the capital on Thursday.

Obasanjo spokeswoman Remi Oyo said the plane was turned back and called it a "hostile and unfriendly action."

Togo's Information Minister Pitang Tchalla, however, denied that Togolese aviation authorities had turned back the plane, but said they had simply advised it to land in Kara, the country's main northern city, because that is where the West African delegation is to be received.

"We do not understand why the Obasanjo delegation does not want to come to Kara," Tchalla said.

Obasanjo was to join the leaders of Niger, Benin, Mali and Ghana in trying to push army-installed Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe to hand over power to the speaker of parliament and arrange new elections as had been specified in the constitution before rushed, army-directed changes last weekend.

The delegation was formed during an emergency summit of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States on Wednesday. The ECOWAS leaders declared that the Togolese military had committed a coup d'etat in anointing Gnassingbe on Saturday, hours after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema.

The constitution had specified that the speaker of parliament be installed as temporary president in the event of the president's death, and that elections be called within 60 days.

In an extraordinary session Sunday, the national assembly approved Gnassingbe as speaker, replacing Fanbare Tchaba, then voted to change the constitution to allow him to fulfill his father's term, which expires in 2008.

The 52-nation African Union, which has been trying to shed the continent's legacy as a bastion of despots who have seized power through the barrel of a gun, also has threatened to impose sanctions.

Tensions also could be felt in Togo itself, especially among the women who run Togo's largest market.

The market women -- traditionally an economic and political force in this small West African country -- say there's only one way for Togo to rebuild its economy and take back its pride: all Gnassingbes must go.

"We cannot allow the president's son to be in power," said Francisca Anator, 38, a fabric seller in Lome's sprawling Assigame Adawlato Market, where dozens of women momentarily left their stalls Thursday to shout complaints about their new president.

"The Gnassingbe family must vanish forever," Anator said.

She and other women said they had had enough after living under Eyadema -- Africa's longest serving ruler.

Eyadema led a 1963 military coup that claimed the life of Togo's first democratically elected president, Sylvanus Olympio, and four years later claimed sole control of the country.

He dealt harshly with the opposition and ruled this impoverished former French and British colony with the support of the army and his clan.

"The European Union and the United States should put pressure on this regime to leave," said Afi Agossou, 50, standing amid head-high stacks of brilliantly colored cloth used to make dresses.

"We're fed up with the way they've treated our people," said Ameyo Adalbert, 45, surrounded by tall mounds of rice at her nearby stand. "The economy will only improve with someone else, someone honest and fair."

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