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Togolese Opposition Leader Returns from Exile

  • Joe Bavier

Togo's main opposition leader has returned to the capital Lome, after a two-year absence. Gilchrist Olympio, who is barred from running in a presidential election next month, is coming home to lend his support to his party deputy's campaign against the son of the late longtime leader.

Thousands turned out early Saturday to welcome home Togo's most popular opposition leader. The president of the Union of Forces for Change and son of the nation's first head of state, Gilchrist Olympio, arrived via Lome's border crossing with neighboring Ghana waving a yellow scarf, the color of his party.

His return follows the nomination by an alliance of Togo's six main opposition parties of life-long resistance leader Emmanuel Bob-Akitani as their sole candidate in presidential elections scheduled for April 24.

Mr. Olympio, who has spent most of his life in exile following the murder of his father, Sylvanus Olympio, more than 40 years ago, is barred from running due to a residency requirement. He arrived in Ghana last week from his home Paris.

He says he has come home to help Mr. Akitani in his campaign against Faure Gnassingbe, the son of late President Gnassingbe Eyadema. Mr. Eyadema, who helped orchestrate the 1963 military coup against President Olympio, died early last month after 38 years in power.

"I'm having a political rally to explain to the population the state of play and present our candidate to the population. At this meeting, not only my party will be present, but the presidents or representatives of our associate parties, people who are working with us, will also be present," he said.

Mr. Olympio returned to Lome in the early 1990s to lead a reform movement many in the opposition had hoped would signify a new era in Togolese politics long dominated by Mr. Eyadema's single-party rule. But a failed assassination attempt in 1999 once again drove him out of the country. He has only made brief visits to Lome ever since.

One opposition supporter who came out to greet Mr. Olympio says he is a charismatic man. His return, he says, could galvanize the support of the opposition behind the 74-year-old, Mr. Akitani.

In addition to Mr. Gnassingbe, who was briefly installed as president following the death of his father, Mr. Akitani will likely face businessman, Nicolas Lawson, and several other minor candidates in the election next month.