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West African Nations Drop Togo Sanctions

  • Joe Bavier

West African countries are lifting sanctions against Togo, now that the son of the country's late, long-time leader has resigned as president. Parliament has appointed an interim president until elections in 60 days.

The secretary-general of the West African regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, called the decision by Faure Gnassingbe to step down "a victory." Saturday, Mohammed Chambas praised Togo's appointment of an interim president, and announced an immediate end to sanctions.

"I think it's a big victory for Togo. It's a victory for Africa," he said. "We have set new standards of governance in Africa, and we must be seen to respect and to live up to these new expectations, respect for constitution and rule of law. And I think what happened in Togo shows the determination of African leaders, of African organizations, to uphold these new standards of governance."

Nigerian President and current head of the African Union Olusegun Obasanjo said African leaders had succeeded in reversing a coup.

Mr. Gnassingbe announced late Friday that he was giving up the presidency. He had been in the position since he was installed by the military shortly after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, earlier this month.

In the same speech, Mr.Gnassingbe reconfirmed his candidacy for the ruling party in the presidential election, expected in the coming weeks.

Togo's national assembly met until the early hours of Saturday before selecting the vice president of parliament, Abass Bonfoh, as their new assembly speaker. As such, he will serve as interim president during the transition period.

Opposition leaders say they will continue their protest efforts. Several demonstrations in the capital, Lome, have turned violent in recent weeks. And there are reports of a strong police presence, as thousands took to the streets again.

Journalist Modeste Messavuusuu says the opposition sees Mr. Gnassingbe's resignation as a small victory. But, he says, opposition leaders have little faith Mr. Bonfoh can organize fair elections.

One of the chief demands of the opposition is the return of the deposed speaker of parliament, Fambare Natchaba. Mr. Natchaba, who, under the constitution, should have succeeded Mr. Eyadema at the time of his death, has remained abroad since Mr. Gnassingbe came to power.

London-based human rights lawyer Ibrahima Kane says ECOWAS may have moved too quickly in lifting sanctions.

"What the ECOWAS heads of state have said is the former speaker of the parliament be the person who is supposed to conduct the election. He's the man that the constitution says that he should run the interim period," said Mr. Kane. "And that man should be the only person who can conduct the election. Any other arrangement is illegal."

Togo's opposition leaders now fear they won't have enough time to prepare elections. They say, due to stringent electoral rules, their best candidates will not be able to run.

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