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West African Leaders Help to Prepare Togo Vote

Two West African heads of state have gone to Togo to discuss organizing new elections following the resignation of the military appointed president. The opposition is afraid free and fair elections will not be possible.

President Mamadou Tandja of Niger and his Malian counterpart Amadou Toumani Toure represented the regional bloc ECOWAS on its diplomatic mission in Togo's capital, Lome.

A spokeswoman for the grouping, Adriane Diop, says ECOWAS has been encouraged by the decision Friday of Faure Gnassingbe, the son of the late long ruling leader, to quit the presidency and allow an interim president to take over until polls can be held.

"We see it as a positive decision. And that has triggered the lifting of sanctions from ECOWAS. So we are going to discuss with the Togolese political class to see the way forward," said Ms. Diop. "We will be on the side of Togo as provided by our protocols in order to assist them to have free and fair and transparent elections."

ECOWAS imposed sanctions against Togo last week following Mr. Gnassingbe's installation as president by the military upon the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema.

It lifted the sanctions Saturday after Mr. Gnassingbe stepped down, ceding the presidency to the newly elected assembly speaker and constitutionally-mandated interim leader, Abass Bonfoh.

Mr. Bonfoh has promised to hold free and transparent elections soon. And Mr. Gnassingbe has already declared his candidacy for Togo's ruling party. Under the constitution, elections are required in the coming weeks.

Main opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, says he supports the ECOWAS mission to Lome. But he says the delegation has much work to do if it is to ensure open elections.

"We have been asking for elections for the last 38 or 40 years," he said. "What we are asking ECOWAS is that we should make sure the elections are not organized by Mr. Eyadema's son and the sort of character he has put in now as the interim president

"And we should very quickly put in place an independent institution, some sort of independent electoral commission that will organize the elections, hand in hand with ECOWAS, the African Union, and the European Union, and perhaps even the United Nations," added Mr. Olympio.

Under current residency requirements, Mr. Olympio would not be allowed to run because he has lived in exile.

Opposition protests since Mr. Eyadema's death have turned violent on several occasions leaving at least three protesters dead.

Demonstrations continued Sunday, as thousands of women took to the streets in Lome calling for the return of the deposed speaker of parliament, Fabare Natchaba. Young opposition supporters clashed with security forces in the district of Be later in the day.

Mr. Natchaba, the legal successor to Mr. Eyadema at the time of his death, has remained abroad since Mr. Gnassingbe came to power. He used his first interview on international radio Monday to reassert his claim to hold the interim Togolese presidency.