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Togolese President Rejects Proposals for Unity Government

  • Joe Bavier

Togo's president, Faure Gnassingbe, has rejected terms opposition leaders are demanding for a new government of national unity. Regional heads of state have been pushing for a government that would include the opposition to put an end to months of political turmoil, following the death of Mr. Gnassingbe's long-ruling father.

Togo's controversially elected President Faure Gnassingbe dismissed the document submitted by the heads of five of Togo's opposition parties, saying it was a political statement, rather than a search for a solution.

An advisor to Mr. Gnassingbe, Koudjo Noidonou, says the proposal, whose full content have not been made public, was mainly an attack against the president.

He says that opposition demands include changing Togo's constitution, so that the president becomes a figurehead and the prime minister all-powerful, are unacceptable.

Mr. Noidonou says any deal that would include amending the constitution is out of the question. He says Mr. Gnassingbe's election conformed to Togo's laws, and he must now be allowed to run the country.

Mr. Gnassingbe won April's presidential election, after initially taking power in a bloodless military coup following the death of his father, the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema, earlier this year. At first the constitution was changed to justify the move, but those changes were then rescinded and elections went ahead with Mr. Gnassingbe as the ruling party candidate.

On election day, soldiers could be seen stealing ballot boxes from opposition areas. And regional leaders were forced to step in to mediate the crisis, which on several occasions erupted into violence.

African leaders, working within the African Union, have called for the creation of a government that would include both Mr. Gnassingbe and the Togolese opposition.

The head of the main opposition party, Jean-Pierre Fabre, says the constitution must be changed if the situation is ever to be resolved.

He says the constitution itself is the reason for the crisis. And, therefore, he says, the government cannot use constitutional grounds to reject opposition proposals.

The main opposition party actually was not part of the coalition submitting the proposal, saying it was not final.

Africa analyst Olly Owen says this latest incident shows just how far the two sides are from a real compromise.

"There's very, very little overlap between what the two sides want or are prepared to agree to at the moment," he said. "The government isn't interested in anything beyond preserving its dominance and giving away some token posts. And the opposition isn't interested in participating in anything that it wont get a say in."

Mr. Owen says he has little hope the dialogue between the opposition and the government will resolve the crisis in the near future. But, he says, it serves as a pressure valve for political hostility.

"I think that maybe the best we can hope for is that it contains the kinds of tensions that are there at the moment and gives people a form in which to articulate them rather than letting those tensions build up a head of steam and maybe spill over into more violence," he said.

Adding to difficulties, the African Union named former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda as the body's special mediator in the Togolese crisis. But Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current president of the body, disputed this, saying he was not consulted. It remains unclear whether or not Mr. Kaunda will take up his new duties.

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