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February 18, 2010

Campaigning Underway for Presidential Vote in Togo

by Scott Stearns

Campaigning is under way in Togo for presidential elections scheduled for March 4. Togo's president is facing six opposition candidate.

President Faure Gnassingbe is running for his second term, having taken charge following the 2005 death of his father Gnassignbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years.

The president launched his campaign in the city of Atakpame, 150 kilometers from the capital Lome, where he says he can see on people's faces how tired they are of poor public services.

The president says too many women die in childbirth because the hospital is so far from their homes. He says teachers are tired because they have poor training. Togo faces many challenges, and the president is asking voters if they want to solve them. They have the power, he says, to take charge of their own destiny starting with elections March 4.

Previous presidential votes have seen charges of fraud and post-electoral violence. More than 400 people were killed in fighting following the 2005 vote. The United Nations says 40,000 Togolese sought refuge in Ghana and Benin.

The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States are sending observers to the vote. The ECOWAS team will be stationed at military barracks and police headquarters to monitor the activities of security forces.

President Gnassingbe says the government will not tolerate any violence.

President Gnassingbe says those who make violence will be arrested and brought to justice. He says he strongly disapproves of the slogan of one of the opposition parties which is "change or death." Life, he says, is better than anything.

Three main opposition candidates have withdrawn from the vote because they fear the results will be rigged. Former candidate Yawovi Agboybo's party says the coming elections "appear as a farce."