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Togo Opposition: Election Rigged, Promises Protests

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Togo's main opposition party says it will contest results announced by the electoral commission that indicate the country's president has won re-election.

According to provisional results announced late Saturday by the electoral commission, President Faure Gnassingbe won more than 60 percent of Thursday's ballots, securing his re-election with more than 1.2 million votes.

A presidential supporter in the capital, Lome, says they are celebrating the re-election of Mr. Gnassingbe, who he says is their king and their leader. He says there will be no more need for elections in Togo.

But not everyone in Togo is celebrating.

The opposition says it will challenge the provisional election results within the next week when they are transmitted to Togo's constitutional court.

An opposition supporter says they disagree with the released results, which he says were false.  He says they cannot be sure as to where or who those results came from.  He says the opposition is demanding the real results of the election.

Main opposition candidate, Jean-Pierre Fabre of the Union of Forces for Change Party, led several-hundred opposition demonstrators into the capital's main square Saturday.  Riot police broke up that protest, and one on Sunday, with tear-gas and set up barricades at strategic positions.

Fabre, who had also claimed victory in the poll Friday, says there were voting irregularities, including stuffed ballot boxes.  

Fabre says he does not at all recognize Mr. Gnassingbe's claims to victory.  He says, of course the opposition is going to protest, but those protests will be peaceful.  He says he has not asked for government permission to protest because he says the constitution guarantees him the right to demonstrate.

Results announced by the electoral commission Saturday indicate Fabre came in second with nearly 700,000 votes or just more than a third of the ballots.  Former prime minister Yawovi Agboyibo finished third with less than three percent of the vote.

The poll was widely seen as a test of the democratic process in the West African country.  Its last presidential election in 2005 was marked by violence and accusations of fraud.  President Gnassingbe won that 2005 vote following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for more than 38 years.

Union of Forces for Change Party (UFC) vice president Patrick Lawson told VOA Sunday the opposition would continue to fight to reclaim what it says is its victory.

Lawson says we cannot let our victory be stolen again and that is why people have urged us to protest.  He said Sunday that you can still hear tear gas being launched at the UFC headquarters in Lome, but he says we are still here and we will continue to resist.

An opposition member of the electoral commission resigned Saturday to protest what he called fraud, saying the results had not been verified and should not have been released.

Observers from the Economic Community of West African States say they believe the vote was fair, but they are expressing concern about the reliability of totals reported to the electoral commission after a breakdown in the satellite system that was to transmit returns from polling stations.

European Union observers said they did not find evidence of vote tampering.   

But the EU team cited certain concerns, such as a lack of permanent ink in some polling places to mark voters' fingers after they had cast their ballots and the possibility that military members may have voted in both the military poll March 1 and the general poll March 4.  

Regional military observers and several-thousand special Togolese forces were deployed to maintain calm during this vote, but there were no reports of violence.  According to U.N. estimates, post-electoral violence in 2005 killed more than 400 people and sent thousands of refugees into Ghana and Benin.

Though the opposition has planned continued demonstrations outside the UFC headquarters in Lome, witnesses say the headquarters is surrounded by security forces and inaccessible to protesters.

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