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Togo's Opposition Demands President Step Down


More than 20,000 protesters have taken to the streets in Togo demanding the military-installed president Faure Gnassingbe step down. The son of the country's late long-ruling leader says he will be a candidate in elections to be held within 60 days.

In the capital's opposition strongholds, protesters, mostly young unemployed men, chanted slogans, and held up placards with messages in chalk demanding that Mr. Gnassingbe step down.

Small groups of helmeted police watched the demonstrations, but mostly kept a low profile.

Opposition leaders who organized Saturday's protest say Togo should not be a dynasty. Mr. Gnassingbe replaced his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died earlier this month after 38 years in power.

Another protest took place at the presidential palace, where several thousand government supporters heard a speech in which Mr. Gnassingbe said he would be a candidate and ensure stability in the run-up to the vote.

One of his supporters said he was relieved to hear this and he hoped the international community would help Togolese in this transition period.

Parliament had changed the constitution, allowing Mr. Gnassingbe to finish out his father's term until 2008, but his son has now bowed to domestic and outside pressure to allow quick elections as stipulated previously.

Mr. Gnassingbe made the concession to hold a presidential election within 60 days in a speech late Friday. He also said legislative elections would be held soon. Earlier Friday, authorities lifted a ban on demonstrations it had imposed. Security forces killed at least four demonstrators during previous protests.

But the opposition says it should be the former parliament speaker, who was voted out after Mr. Eyadema's death, who should lead during the run-up to the elections, and not Mr. Gnassingbe, which is why, it says, more protests are needed.

Saturday, the African Union and the West African regional grouping, ECOWAS, also said Mr. Gnassingbe should step down. ECOWAS has threatened sanctions against Togo and says Mr. Gnassinbe's concessions do not go far enough.

A London-based West Africa analyst, Olly Owen, says he doubts that given the circumstances the elections can be free and fair.

"I would say it's virtually impossible to organize free and fair elections in Togo in the time scale that the government is planning," he said. "They know perfectly well that's the truth. In fact, they think that their major chance of retaining this kind of entrenched power in the country is to hold these things along in such a manner the opposition which has in many cases been outside the country is too rushed to organize."

The main opposition leader and son of Togo's slain founding president, Gilchrist Olympio, lives in exile in Paris. He was barred from the 2003 presidential vote because he failed to meet residency requirements.

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