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Togo Announces Election Date

Togo's electoral commission says elections to choose a new president following the resignation last week of the son of the late leader will be held next month. The opposition says the timetable is too short to ensure a fair process.

Presidential elections have been set for April 24, two months after the end of Faure Gnassingbe's controversial and short-lived stint as head of state.

The head of Togo's electoral commission, Professor Kissem Tchangai-Walla, says the date chosen complies with the constitution's requirement that elections be held within 60 days of the death or resignation of a president.

The countdown, she says, began on February 25, the day Mr. Gnassingbe stepped down. His appointment last month by the military upon the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, drew international condemnation and sparked protests by the opposition at home.

Mr. Gnassingbe has already been confirmed as the candidate for Togo's ruling party. All candidates must register by March 26. Campaigning for the election will run April 8 - 22.

The announcement of an election date follows a visit to the capital, Lome, earlier this week by leaders from the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. The delegation met with Togolese authorities, as well as opposition parties in an attempt to clear the way for elections.

Alex Vines, a West Africa expert with the London-based Royal Institute for International Affairs, says, despite the short timetable, holding elections in Togo, after nearly four decades of rule by late President Eyadema, is a positive step.

"It is rather prompt. And, of course, that will favor Faure Gnassingbe, the son of Togo's late president. But at least we now have an electoral cycle," Mr. Vines said. "It is up now to the opposition and other parties to compete in this. This is an important event. The challenge is to ensure that the playing field is relatively level for such a contest."

Togo's main opposition parties announced Thursday their willingness to participate in elections. But they have criticized the 60-day timetable as unrealistic, if the process is to be fair and open. They say there is not enough time to fix technical problems, like outdated electoral lists, or engage the international community in the organization and monitoring of the polls.

The chief concern of Togo's leading opposition party, known as the UFC, is the status of its leader, Gilchrist Olympio, who is currently excluded from running due to a residency requirement. Mr. Olympio currently lives in exile in Paris.

UFC Spokesman Patrick Lawson says, as the man who best personifies the struggle of the opposition, Mr. Olympio should be allowed to represent the party at the polls. But if that is not possible, he says, then Mr. Olympio will be involved in discussions to chose an alternative candidate.