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Togo Protest Prevented as Mediation Hits Snag

  • Nico Colombant

Security forces in Togo's capital Lome have prevented a protest against the appointment of the son of the late long serving leader as new president. The unrest came as West African leaders encountered logistical difficulties in trying to convince the new disputed leader to step down and allow elections.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who had gathered in the Be district of Lome Friday, contesting the military's installation of Faure Gnassingbe as Togo's new leader last week.

Police wielding sticks also chased down demonstrators in the southern opposition stronghold of the capital. Protesters responded by setting tires on fire, sending a large plume of black smoke into the air.

One of the protest organizers, Harry Olympio, says several protesters were injured. Mr. Olympio was previously considered a part of the constructive opposition to the former leader Gnassingbe Eyadema. Mr. Eyadema died Saturday of an apparent heart attack after 38 years in power.

The so-called radical opposition is planning its own protest Saturday, according to one of its organizers, Jean-Pierre Fabre.

Mr. Fabre says the government is cracking down on opposition because it is in a weak position and he expects a similar reaction could take place Saturday, but that protests should still go ahead.

Communications Minister Piteng Tchalla told VOA he is outraged by these attempts at dissent. Demonstrations have been banned for two months during a period of national mourning.

"Do you think it is normal that when the president of a republic has died and he's not yet buried, politicians call people to manifest [protest]?" he asked.

But civilians in the main market of Lome have told journalists they believe it's time for the whole Eyadema family and its military regime to go.

The West African regional grouping called ECOWAS organized a head-of-state delegation to meet with the contested 39-year-old new leader, Faure Gnassingbe, but the effort got off to a rocky start.

Nigerian officials want the meeting to be in the capital Lome, while the Togolese are trying to have it in the northern city of Kara, a stronghold for supporters of the late Mr. Eyadema.

This created confusion over where a plane carrying an advance Nigerian delegation should land, and it ended up not landing in Togo at all. Nigerian officials reacted angrily, recalling their ambassador to Togo and saying this could justify immediate sanctions against the new government.

ECOWAS says the delegation is meant to press for a return to constitutional order. At the time of Mr. Eyadema's death, it was the assembly speaker who was supposed to take over and call elections within 60 days, but the parliament quickly changed those rules, allowing Mr. Gnassingbe to remain president until 2008.

The European Union, former colonial power France, and the African Union have called for quick elections.

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