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26.04.2005 Togo

Togo on Fire!

By IRIN

Furious opposition say won't accept former ruler's son as new president LOME, 26 April (IRIN) - Protesters threw up flaming barricades across Togo's capital and a furious opposition urged people to resist after Faure Gnassingbe, son of the late long-ruling president, was declared winner of a presidential poll marred by violence and fraud allegations.

Minutes after the announcement of Gnassingbe's victory on state radio and television on Tuesday, an IRIN correspondent saw crowds of angry youths spill onto the streets of the capital Lome, some waving machetes and hurling stones.

Barricades made of concrete slabs or wooden market traders' tables mushroomed in no time across major traffic arteries and a heavy pall of black smoke spread over the city as protesters set fire to tyres.

Gnassingbe, the son of the late president Gnassingbe Eyadema and candidate of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), won 60.22 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll, while the main opposition candidate Emmanuel Bob-Akitani captured 38.19 percent, according to provisional results from the electoral commission.

"In view of these results ... the candidate of the RPT has been provisionally elected," commission chief Kissem Tchangai-Walla said.

The provisional results must be confirmed by the constitutional council and did not include polling stations where ballot boxes had been destroyed, she added.

An opposition spokesman for the main Union of Forces for Change (UFC) party, Jean-Pierre Fabre, branded the poll "a masquerade" and urged the country's five million people to resist.

"We will not accept these results," Fabre told Radio France Internationale. "The opposition is calling on the people to mobilise to stop this umpteenth power grab."

Sunday's election, hastily organised after Eyadema's sudden death on 5 February after 38 years in office, was marred from the start by protests and violence.

At least a dozen people were killed in the build-up to the election. One western diplomat reported seeing five corpses on the street on polling day alone although the government said only one person had been killed.

Teargas and gunfire As the day wore on in Lome on Tuesday, the streets emptied of vehicles and people. But the sound of tear gas grenades and gunfire continued to echo across the seaside city.

"As soon as we heard the results on the radio we all left our offices and rushed home indoors," said one Lome resident reached by telephone who asked not to be identified.

Diplomats said a French restaurant had been attacked and tyres burnt outside the French school, while a Chinese diplomat said his embassy had been attacked by youths who hurled stones and other missiles at the building.

Anti-French sentiment has been strong in Togo since Eyadema's death, with many people blaming the former colonial power for keeping him at the helm for so long. On Monday the French foreign ministry was quick to say that the election "was held in satisfactory conditions, even if isolated incidents were observed."

A spokeswoman for 150 observers sent to Togo on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also said on Monday that although there were some incidents and irregularities, voting on the whole was fair.

"For the moment the information we have is that there was some violence and irregularities, but that in many places the vote was massive, regular and correct," Adrienne Diop told reporters.

But a senior western diplomat who asked not to be identified told IRIN that since Eyadema's death the people of Togo appeared determined to see more democracy and transparency.

"Will the Togolese people remain disciplined after more than 35 years under Eyadema or will they stop being docile this time?" he said.

Talking to reporters after the announcement of his election victory, the 39-year-old Gnassingbe called for reconciliation with the opposition. "We need to come together to rebuild our country," he said.

National unity government still an option?

While the ballot papers were still being counted on Monday, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had trumpeted an agreement between Gnassingbe and exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio where both promised to form a government of national unity whatever the result.

But that deal looked in doubt on Tuesday, with irate youths on both sides on the streets rejecting the compromise. "Faure or nothing. Faure or hell," chanted Gnassingbe supporters, some armed with clubs and machetes.

Olympio himself, who was banned from running in the election and anointed Bob-Akitani as his stand-in, took to the international airwaves before the results were even announced, stressing that nothing had actually been signed in Abuja.

But speaking after Gnassingbe's victory, Obasanjo insisted that a government of national unity was the only guarantee for peace in the tiny country that lies in an already conflict-ridden West African region.

"He hopes the understanding that prevailed . will endure and the winner should extend his hand of friendship to others who did not win in order to build the country," Obasanjo's spokeswoman, Remi Oyo told journalists.

She added that this did not mean the Nigerian leader and current head of the African Union believed that allegations of irregularities were invalid.

"He believes that there should be all-round pacification of frayed nerves, that there is a window of opportunity for Togo to imbibe the spirit of democracy," Oyo said.

But on the streets of Lome, as night closed in, nerves were still raw.

As police in three vehicle convoys patrolled the city, residents hid and many protesters stayed indoors.

"We are going to fetch guns," a young opposition supporter who gave his name only as Seraphin told IRIN. Protesters spill onto streets as Eyadema's son declared president LOME, 26 April (IRIN) - Faure Gnassingbe, the candidate for Togo's ruling party and the son of the late veteran president Gnassingbe Eyadema, was declared winner of the presidential election on Tuesday.

Minutes after the television announcement, an IRIN correspondent saw crowds of angry youths spill onto the streets in some areas of the capital Lome waving machetes and hurling stones.

Barricades were thrown up across major arteries and a heavy pall of black smoke hung over the city as protesters set fire to tyres.

Announcing the results, the head of the CENI National Electoral Commission, Kissem Tchangai-Walla, said Gnassingbe of the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) won 60.22 percent of the vote in Sunday's poll while the main opposition candidate Emmanuel Bob-Akitani captured 38.19 percent.

"In view of these results ... the candidate of the RPT has been provisionally elected," said Kissem Tchangai-Walla.

The electoral commission chief said the provisional results must be confirmed by the constitutional council under Togolese law and that they did not include polling stations where ballot boxes had been destroyed.

Accusations of fraud and voting irregularities have been made by both sides in an election marred by violence, with diplomats and hospital sources saying three people had been killed in clashes on Sunday.

The weekend vote was held after the sudden death in office on 5 February of Eyadema, who ruled the tiny country of five million people for 38 years, becoming Africa's longest serving ruler.

Turnout was high in the landmark election, at 63.57 percent, according to CENI.

The election was a straight race between Gnassingbe, who is 39, and 74-year-old Bob-Akitani, who ran on behalf of a coalition of six opposition parties.

A third opposition candidate, Nicolas Lawson won 1.04 percent according to the provisional results while Harry Olympio, who at the last minute withdrew from the race, nonetheless picked up 0.55 percent, CENI said.

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