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Protests Mount Against Togo's New Leader


A stay-at-home protest in Togo against the replacement of the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema with his 39-year-old son is heating up. Meanwhile, African bodies and European governments are also mounting pressure against what they are calling an illegal transfer of power.

Most markets, shops and banks opened Tuesday in the capital Lome, but after residents quickly did a few errands, many of them returned home. Teachers canceled classes for the day and told their students to lock themselves behind closed doors.

Lome journalist Issaka Abass says some residents may be taking part in the protest, but that many are simply scared of possible violence. He says the army has deployed to prevent possible unrest.

"In Lome, yes, there are the forces of army who have taken the strategic points," said Mr. Abass. "They are there, they are staying there, and they are controlling the situation."

One of the protest organizers, opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre, says he believes many Togolese will become emboldened and take part in the second day of the protest called "Togo, a dead country."

"Nobody accepts the coup d'etat. And I don't know what the young president will do, because we are going to fight him," added Mr. Fabre. "We will not let him the time to say he is the Togolese president. No, we will never accept that."

After Mr. Eyadema, who was in power 38 years, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack, the army installed his son Faure Gnassingbe as Togo's new leader. Sunday, the ruling-party dominated parliament changed the constitution, canceling a provision for quick elections and instead allowing Mr. Gnassingbe to stay in power until 2008.

The Interior Ministry has banned protests for two months, a time which is being reserved for national mourning for Mr. Eyadema. But Mr. Fabre thinks otherwise. "Naturally, we don't accept what the Minister of the Interior says, and we will show it to him," he said. "We have tried to do a demonstration, today and tomorrow, we ask people to stay at home. We will see what we will do in the next few weeks."

The 53-nation African Union has threatened sanctions unless Togo restores what it calls "constitutional legality." These could exclude Togo from the body.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States, of which Togo is also a member, has also called the transfer of power illegal. It will hold a special meeting Wednesday in Niger, to decide what course of action to take.

Officials from France, the former colonial power, and the European Union have called for quick elections. The European Union had been discussing resuming aid to Togo, but officials say those discussions are now back to zero.

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