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Togo's President Takes Oath of Office Amid Tension

Faure Gnassingbe (Feb. 2005 file photo)
Faure Gnassingbe took the oath of office as president of Togo Wednesday, succeeding his father who had ruled the country for 38 years. He was elected in a controversial ballot mired by fraud and street violence. This is the second time the late leader's son assumes power in turbulent Togo.

Ruling party supporters cheered at the congressional palace in Lome as Mr. Gnassingbe was officially sworn in as Togo's president.

He swears to respect and defend the constitution.

Changes in the constitution, adopted in February after his father died, allowed Mr. Gnassingbe to take the office for the first time. But violent protests and external pressure forced him to step down, cancel the constitutional changes and call elections.

Outside the congressional palace late Wednesday, the swearing-in ceremony was greeted with silence. Security was heavy.

Many youths who last week set up street barricades and fought with soldiers and government militias have been fleeing by the thousands to nearby Benin, Ghana or to their home villages.

One youth who remained in an opposition district, Ernest Mensa, says he hopes the president will use his power to make things better.

"I am praying that he can work through all these things that we are facing now," he said. "I want him to use it to help the opposition so that the two parties they can work together, work together."

Second place finisher Emmanuel Akitani-Bob who says he would have won if the elections were clean, sought to have the results declared null and void, but his complaint was thrown out. His party says it will not join in a national unity government.

But Harry Olympio, who finished a distant fourth, representing the so-called moderate opposition, struck a more conciliatory tone.

"The radical opposition see the power as a devil," he said. "It's necessary to move to reconciliation, because the reality is definitely in Togo we definitely need a reconciliation."

Legislative elections are expected in the coming months, but leaders of the opposition, who are very popular in Lome and other southern coastal towns, warn they fear the vote will be rigged as well.