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Foreigners Targeted in Togo's Post-Election Violence


The disputed election results in Togo have unleashed anti-foreigner sentiments, mainly among the opposition, against nationals from the former colonial power France. But the government and its supporters are also turning against foreign targets, including most recently the German cultural center.

As opposition militants clean up debris from their riot-torn neighborhoods, approaching foreign journalists elicit renewed anger.

Asked to explain, one of them says France has been behind Togo's problems since the late ruler Gnassingbe Eyadema took power in 1967 in a coup.

Another protester says "shame to France" and "shame to ECOWAS." He was referring to the West African grouping that helped organize Sunday's elections from which Mr. Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, emerged as the winner. The announcement of the results Tuesday sparked deadly protests along the southern beachfront coast.

The Interior Ministry says among those killed were nine nationals from Niger, which currently holds the ECOWAS rotating presidency. But Niger's foreign ministry has denied any witch hunt against its nationals, and says just one Nigerien was killed.

The results, deemed unfair by the opposition, also led to the burning and looting of French, Lebanese and Chinese businesses and homes.

This woman, who fled similar violence in nearby Ivory Coast recently, says her guard and neighbors rescued her and she was then taken by the military to a safe hotel.

A rescued Frenchman at the same hotel says he understands the anger, but he says it's misplaced. He says he is a simple schoolteacher working in his words "with everyone for everyone."

Nicolas Lawson, an opposition candidate who pulled out of Sunday's election because he says he foresaw massive fraud, says France's tacit support of undemocratic leaders in its former colonies will lead to social unrest and civil wars throughout the region, much as it already did in divided Ivory Coast.

"The whole countries are going to turn into violence because of the attitude of France, taking position each time wrongly and being on the wrong side and not helping with democracy," said Nicolas Lawson. "We are fed up with this and it's why you see the youth, they are angry against France and there's going to be a revolution one day against the position of France in Africa."

France's Foreign Minister Michel Barnier initially said the French government was "satisfied" with the conduct of Sunday's election, but that caused anger among opposition leaders who believe the elections were rigged.

Speaking later in the week, Mr. Barnier said he never commented on the results of the balloting. He said France has not and will not interfere in Togolese affairs.

Another former colonial power, Germany, had its cultural center, Lome's Goethe Institute, burned down by masked men early Friday, after comments from Togolese officials that the German government was backing the opposition. The former interior minister, Francois Boko, who warned of post-election violence before being replaced just one day before voting, has been sheltered at the German embassy since his comments.

Germany has demanded an investigation.

Meanwhile, Togo's communications ministry criticized foreign journalists on state news Thursday, saying they were irresponsible and caused violence.

That comment followed the airing of dramatic television footage on French and African television showing Togolese soldiers stealing ballot boxes at a polling center in a Lome opposition stronghold just as vote counting began.

The tape was aired only after the cameraman had arrived safely back in France.

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