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Togo's Embattled New President Promises to Pursue Democracy


In a swearing-in ceremony boycotted by Western diplomats, 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe was installed this week as the new president of Togo.

In his inauguration speech, Mr. Gnassingbe promised to respect human rights. Monday, before parliament, he promised to push through democratic reforms.

The military installed Mr. Gnassingbe as Togo's new leader, after his father and former president of Togo, Gnassingbe Eyadema, died Saturday. Mr. Gnassingbe's position was later sanctioned by parliament who made him the new speaker of parliament, and changed the constitution, which had stipulated elections should be held within 60 days.

The African Union has condemned the change in power, calling it a coup.

An analyst from a British-based regional security publication, Jane's Sentinel, Richard Reeve, says the army will probably use force to support Mr. Gnassingbe, in order to maintain the dominance of his father's minority Kabye ethnic group.

Although the Kabye dominate Togo's army they make up just 12 percent of the population of about five million people.

"Given his backing for the army in the events of the weekend, the experience under his father, and the way the military is structured in parallel to politics in the dominance of the Kabye people from the north, I think there's every chance that the military would use a heavy degree of force to maintain their power," Mr. Reeve said.

The minister of interior issued a ban on public rallies, Monday, saying that it is to observe a two month mourning period for the dead president, but which opposition members say is really to silence protest.

Mr. Gnassingbe may give the opposition more of a voice than President Eyadema, as he wants to push for more western aid. As minister under his father, Mr. Gnassingbe tried to unfreeze European Union aid money, blocked off since 1993, when 20 pro-democracy protesters were killed.

Mr. Reeve says the new president is likely to let exiled opposition leaders return to Togo.

"You can at least have the opposition come back to the country," he said. "That's been paved substantially by the recent talks with the EU. I think he is unlikely to want to jeopardize progress that has been made so far in that direction, but he will look out to guarantee the interests of the Kabye and the military."

Mr. Gnassingbe entered politics in 2002, when he stood for parliamentary elections, which were boycotted by the opposition. His father named him minister for telecommunications, mines and equipment, in 2003, which critics took as a sign that Mr. Gnassingbe was already being positioned to take over the presidency.

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