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ECOWAS Pushes for Togo Elections by End of April

The West African grouping ECOWAS says it will help organize elections in Togo, so people can choose a president to take the place of long ruling Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died in February. But opposition politicians do not believe conditions for fair elections exist.

The 15-member ECOWAS said in a statement it hoped elections would take place by April 24, putting an end to Togo's political crisis. The statement said the 60 days in which the constitution says an election must take place, began February 26 when Abass Bonfoh took over as interim president.

Togo's political opposition, which threatened to boycott elections, reluctantly agreed to participate after meetings with ECOWAS. But it says its conditions for free and transparent elections have not yet been fulfilled.

Patrick Lawson, a leader in a coalition of six opposition parties said they want to be able to organize elections on an equal footing with the government.

Mr. Lawson said that 60 days was not enough time to organize elections properly. The opposition wants electoral lists revised and would like international election observers.

The biggest opposition party, the Union of Forces for Change is pushing ECOWAS for a political agreement to allow their exiled leader Gilchrist Olympio to be their candidate. Mr. Olympio says he will run for election, although he is constitutionally barred from participating.

The long-ruling Mr. Eyadema amended the constitution in 2002 to say that any presidential candidate must have lived in Togo for at least a year prior to the vote.

Mr. Olympio told VOA that he was uncertain whether ECOWAS would be able to ensure fair elections.

"We are still waiting to see if conditions for going to elections are going to be propitious for everybody to go, and so far we have not got any firm answer yet," he said. "Because ECOWAS, as you know is a very young organization without too much resources. And its ability to impose these decisions are very slim indeed."

Government officials were not available to comment on Mr. Olympio's participation.

The son of the former president, Faure Gnassingbe, announced that he will run as the candidate for his father's ruling party. Mr. Gnassingbe was named Togo's leader by the army, after his father's death, triggering violent protests. Mr. Gnassingbe stepped down Friday under international pressure.

A statement released by the Council of Ministers says Mr. Eyadema's funeral is scheduled to take place on March 13 in Togo's capital, Lome. The statement referred to Mr. Eyadema, who took power in a coup, as the father of the nation.