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Thousands Protest in Togo, Demand Voting Cards - 2003-05-30


Thousands of residents of the capital Lome have been protesting daily in front of city hall, demanding their voting cards.

Authorities say the cards were available at polling stations for one week earlier this month, but they say very few people showed up to get them. Now, the necessary cards are only available at government offices, where protesters complain the distribution has been very slow.

The opposition says the government is holding on to more than half the voting cards, mainly in areas where the opposition is strong. They say this is already compromising the conduct of the June 1 election.

In the previous presidential election, in 1998, authorities stopped vote-counting, and declared President Eyadema the winner, after opposition candidate Gilchrist Olympio started gaining strong results in the capital, Lome.

In December, the constitution was changed to allow President Eyadema, in power since 1967, to seek a third term in office, even though he had promised he would step down.

The constitution was also changed to require presidential candidates to live in Togo for one year prior to the election. This change led to the disqualification of Mr. Olympio, who has been living in exile since 1963, when his father, the country's first president, was assassinated.

Five challengers to Mr. Eyadema are still in the race, but many observers say Mr. Olympio was the only real threat to another victory for the long-time president.

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