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Violence Starts After Togo Poll


Violence has broken out immediately after voting in controversial presidential elections in the West African state of Togo, with opposition activists saying police killed at least one protester. Authorities and the regional grouping, ECOWAS, are appealing urgently for calm.

While shots could be heard in Lome late Sunday, authorities read a statement on television banning all public demonstrations.

Earlier, protesters set ablaze tires on main streets, and also regrouped around polling centers in opposition areas, saying they were preventing the army from stealing ballot boxes.

One of them, Kodjo, spoke with heavy bricks in each hand. "We are very sorry for what they are doing. We do not know how we can do it in this country. How? How? I do not know why, so it is very important to tell them to be very careful," he said.

Police could be seen beating youths with wooden clubs, while army soldiers rode around pointing their weapons from open vehicles, and chasing after thousands of people running around.

The unrest started just after the closing of polls, in which the opposition alleged there was widespread fraud. During the day, opposition activists burned one car, which they said carried stolen ballot papers. They also alleged there had been massive ballot box stuffing, and that newly registered voters were prevented from voting in opposition strongholds.

The government said everything went smoothly, aside from what it called a few incidents.

The election is to choose a successor to long-time leader Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died earlier this year, after 38 years in power.

The ruling party's candidate is his son, Faure Gnassingbe. He briefly took power in a coup in February, before stepping down under ECOWAS pressure to allow elections. His main opponent is Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, who, after voting, showed to journalists that he could rub off what was supposed to be indelible ink to prevent multiple voting.

A minor opposition candidate, who dropped out because of fears of fraud, Nicolas Lawson, said a social explosion was now inevitable. "These people can never organize free and fair elections. It is a system, an anachronism, we are going to destroy, if we do not destroy the system, we can never achieve the objective of democracy in Togo," he said.

But Amadou Gaye, the spokesman for the West African grouping, ECOWAS, which helped the government organize the election appealed for calm. "ECOWAS will not tolerate any form of violence. All parties should respect the official results coming from the poll box. Every candidate should also abstain to make his own proclamation," he said.

The 150 observers from the ECOWAS group are monitoring vote-counting, which is expected to take several days.

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