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Togo Begins Pre-Election Security Crackdown - 2003-05-08


Authorities in Togo have begun a security crackdown, after the main opposition leader said he wants a campaign of civil disobedience to protest his being barred from running in next month's presidential election.

Speaking from Paris, Togo opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio said his party will call for civil disobedience to force President Gnassingbe Eyadema from power.

Earlier this week, the Togo election commission disqualified Mr. Olympio from participating in the June 1 election because he does not fulfill residency requirements. He lives in exile in Europe.

Togo's Interior Minister Akila-Esso Francois Boko says the government will not tolerate violence, and the opposition party must respect the rules.

Wednesday, five militants wearing the red and yellow colors of Mr. Olympio's party were arrested after allegedly setting fire to a gas station in a poor neighborhood of the capital, Lome.

The vice president of Mr. Olympio's political party, Patrick Lawson, said he was detained and questioned for five hours Wednesday.

Mr. Lawson said his party, the Union for the Changes of Force, is non-violent and disassociates itself from any act of violence. But he warned, there could be a social explosion, because, he said, the young people of Togo are desperate for change.

Interior Minister Boko warned there will be a further crackdown if violent protests begin. Mr. Boko said his ministry will do everything in its power to ensure the political campaign and the election are conducted peacefully.

One of the five opposition leaders who have been allowed to run, Leopold Gnininvi, said the mood is very tense in Lome. Mr. Gnininvi said the authorities might incite unrest themselves to justify a crackdown on opposition leaders.

Mr. Gnininvi added that he would like the opposition to consolidate behind one or two candidates so it can have a chance to defeat President Eyadema, who has been in power since 1967.

A constitutional amendment passed in December allowed Mr. Eyadema to seek a third elected mandate. The campaign officially begins May 15.

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