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Togo’s New Leader Calls for Elections

Togo's new leader Faure Gnassingbe has called for elections to be organized quickly, as West African leaders meet in Niger to discuss what they consider his illegal accession to power.

In a speech broadcast on state media, Mr. Gnassingbe said he wanted to establish a new spirit in Togo, by welcoming back exiled opposition leaders, and organizing free and fair elections as quickly as possible.

His father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died Saturday, had already promised legislative elections in early 2005 as part of efforts to unblock frozen European Union aid money.

Communications Minister Piteng Tchalla told VOA the new pledge does not exclude a presidential vote.

"General elections, it means that it could be legislative, it can be presidential,” he noted. “It depends on our capacity to find solution to our division. So, I think it can be before the end of this year, but he said as soon as possible."

The opposition boycotted the previous legislative election, while the main opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio was barred from the last presidential vote.

Mr. Olympio, whose father was killed in a coup led by the late Mr. Eyadema, told VOA he believes the promise about new elections cannot be taken seriously.

"He doesn't fix any time. He doesn't fix the modalities. He doesn't fix the laws under which we shall go to elections. Because, the laws now, before his accession to power and after, are completely undemocratic. So we just don't know at this stage," he said.

Mr. Olympio, who is in exile in Paris, also says it will be difficult for him to return to Togo unless he is given security guarantees.

The speech came as West African leaders gathered in Niger to discuss the situation in Togo. They have called for quick elections and say the army's installation of Mr. Gnassingbe as president is a threat to regional security.

The European Union issued a statement Wednesday, calling the transfer of power a military coup. The 53-nation African Union has warned of sanctions if Togolese authorities do not respect constitutional rule.

At the time of Mr. Eyadema's death, Togo's constitution called for elections within 60 days in case of the president's incapacity to govern. Parliament changed that on Sunday, allowing the military-appointed leader who also voted in as national speaker and interim leader to serve until 2008.