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Togo's Opposition Candidate Declares Victory, Goes Into Hiding - 2003-06-04

The main opposition candidate in Togo, Bob Emmanuel Akitani, has gone into hiding after declaring himself the winner of Sunday's presidential election.

Mr. Akitani said results collected by opposition observers throughout Togo prove he Sunday's election, despite official results showing he is trailing President Eyadema by 25 percentage points.

Speaking to VOA from an undisclosed location outside Lome, Mr. Akitani said his plan to form his own government has been delayed because his two top aides were detained by authorities on Tuesday before being released. Mr. Akitani said he has isolated himself because he fears for his security.

Mr. Akitani said his supporters and his party headquarters were attacked by supporters of President Eyadema wielding baseball bats, while police looked on.

Since the first results were announced Monday, giving Mr. Eyadema, who has been in power 36 years, nearly 60 percent of the vote, a so-called victory caravan made up of white vans has been parading throughout the capital.

The victory caravan traveled to opposition strongholds Tuesday in Lome. Authorities said there were clashes with opposition militants that left 50 people injured and several cars destroyed.

Speaking on state television late Tuesday, Communications Minister Pitang Tchalla blamed opposition militants for provoking the violence.

Mr. Pitang Tchalla said Mr. Akitani and his main backer, exiled opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, are inciting militants to take to the streets. He said they are refusing the verdict of the vote.

A spokesman for Mr. Akitani in Lome said he is calling for opposition supporters to mount a campaign of civil resistance against the official results.

Andre Kuevi Dovi said he is against violence but that militants cannot remain passive while they are being beat up by government supporters. He did not know how many people had been injured in the clashes Tuesday.

The opposition also said the election was marred by fraud. Opposition parties say their election observers were not able to monitor vote counting at many polling stations in the north, Mr. Eyadema's stronghold.

The main observer group for the election, the Intergovernmental Agency of French-speaking African countries, said it is too early to say whether the elections were free and fair, even though other observer groups released a statement Tuesday saying the election was a success.

Important observer groups usually present in Africa, like the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute, did not monitor the vote, because they were not allowed to send observers before the vote took place.