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West African Leaders Cancel Togo Visit


West African leaders are refusing to go to the stronghold of Togo's late leader to convince his son, the new president, to step down. Togolese authorities were insisting on holding the talks in Kara.

West African leaders gathered instead in nearby Benin Friday, and canceled their planned trip to Togo.

The visit was meant to pressure Faure Gnassingbe, 39, who was installed by the military, to step down and allow presidential elections to replace his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died Saturday after 38 years in power.

Togolese authorities were insisting the meeting take place in the northern city of Kara, which is close to Mr. Eyadema's birthplace. A Togolese delegation, which traveled to Kara, was forced to go back to the capital, Lome.

The executive secretary of the West African organization known as ECOWAS told journalists leaders did not want to visit Kara so as not to give the impression of legitimizing Mr. Gnassingbe. They said they would have preferred a meeting in Lome.

Togolese authorities are now being invited to Niger for a meeting in Niamey on Saturday to meet Niger's president, Mamadou Tandja, the current head of ECOWAS. If they refuse to attend, ECOWAS is warning, Togo will face sanctions.

Togo's opposition is also mounting its protest over Mr. Gnassingbe's rise to power, which was endorsed by parliament on Sunday. Lawmakers changed the constitution, scrapping a requirement for new elections within 60 days and instead gave Mr. Gnassingbe a mandate until 2008.

Opposition organizer Jean-Pierre Fabre says it's now time for Togolese themselves to show some resistance.

He says outside help is necessary, but that Togolese must understand they have their destiny in their own hands.

Mr. Fabre is helping organize a major protest for Saturday, despite a two-month ban on any demonstration by the new authorities, raising fears of possible violence.

But the African editor for a London-based security publication, Richard Reeve, says it isn't in anyone's interest, the opposition or military, to have violence break out.

“The opposition knows it is in a position of much greater strength than it ever was with the old man dead that [violence] doesn't have to happen. Togo is going to be under such intense international pressure for a transition and for fair elections in the next 12 months that they don't have to precipitate a violent reaction on the streets," he said.

Several hundred demonstrators gathered in a southern opposition stronghold of Lome early Friday, but were quickly dispersed by police.

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