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Togo Opposition Candidate Shuns Emergency Meeting

  • Joe Bavier

The leading opposition candidate in Togo's upcoming presidential election is boycotting a meeting organized by a regional political bloc aimed at calming the security situation before the vote. The opposition has called for the poll's delay and blames the international community for not keeping its promise to help organize a free and fair election.

The meeting in Niger's capital Niamey had intended to bring Togo's four presidential candidates together to put a stop to the violence that has marked the last few days before Sunday's election.

But the candidate for a coalition of a half-dozen opposition parties, Emmanuel Akitani-Bob stayed home.

A campaign organizer for Mr. Akitani-Bob's Union of Forces for Change, Jean-Pierre Fabre says the meeting, which is being called by the regional bloc ECOWAS, is too little effort, too late.

He says Togo's opposition has for weeks called for delaying the vote. If the goal of the meeting is to change the date of the election, then he says, his candidate does not need to be there. But if regional leaders only plan to tell the opposition to calm down, then he says Mr. Akitani-Bob does not want to waste his time.

Mr. Fabre faults the international community for the instability in Togo before an election that, he says, has no chance of being fair.

ECOWAS is incapable of organizing an election, he says. And by putting the Togolese government in charge of the poll, they are placing the vote in the hands of the same people, he says, that carried out a coup only a few months ago.

Togo's military installed Mr. Gnassingbe to the presidency in February, following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the country for four decades. Sunday's vote was a key demand of ECOWAS, which imposed sanctions on Togo as a result of the move, and eventually pressured Mr. Gnassingbe to step down.

Rival militants wielding machetes and nail-studded clubs clashed Saturday in Togo's capital Lome.

Supporters of ruling party candidate Faure Gnassingbe say seven of their members were killed in the violence, but this has not been independently confirmed. Altercations involving political activists continued in various parts of the country through Monday.

Togolese journalist Modeste Messavussu-Akue says the atmosphere remains tense in Lome.

He says the recent clashes have largely been the result of a very vocal campaign on the part of Mr. Akitani-Bob's opposition coalition, and the resistance it has churned up in supporters of Mr. Gnassingbe.

For now, at least, he says Lome is calm. But it is impossible to predict whether the peace will hold in the days leading up to the vote.

Opposition leaders claim the government has rigged electoral lists in favor of Mr. Gnassingbe by refusing to issue enough voting cards in opposition strongholds. The government has denied wrongdoing.

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