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Togolese Opposition Chooses Presidential Candidate

A coalition of opposition parties in Togo has decided upon a single presidential candidate to run in elections next month against the son of the country's late longtime ruler. With the main opposition figure excluded from the vote, his number two is stepping in to fill his shoes.

The Vice President of the Union of Forces for Change, Emmanuel Bob-Akitani will be the sole candidate representing the six major parties of the Togolese opposition.

Mr. Akitani says he will lead a peaceful campaign that will end in victory and allow the opposition to get on with the task of rebuilding a country that, he says, is in ruin following the 38-year rule of the late president Gnassingbe Eyadema.

The 74-year-old Mr. Akitani began his political career as a student leader and supporter of the Togolese nationalist movement in Paris in the 1950's. He returned in 1960, joining the party of independent Togo's first president Sylvanus Olympio.

Mr. Olympio was assassinated three-years later during a coup Mr. Eyadema helped orchestrate. Mr. Akitani has spent the past four decades helping lead Togo's opposition movement against the Eyadema government.

In 2003, Mr. Akitani ran as a stand-in candidate for his party's leader Gilchrist Olympio, the son of the slain president. He took more than 30 percent of the votes according to the official count. He still contends he won the election.

Mr. Olympio, who has been living in exile in Paris, is excluded from running in next month's poll due to a residence requirement. But, he says, he has confidence in his substitute.

"As Mr. Eyadema's laws in the last few months before he died bar me from standing, we have to go for my number two in the party, which is the first vice president of my party, Mr. Akitani, who has the support of the rest of the political parties,” Mr. Olympio said. “So he will represent not only my party, but the opposition parties as well as a good, good majority portion of the Togolese population. And we are confident we are going to bring the bacon home."

Mr. Akitani's main rival in the election will be President Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, who was installed as president by the military following the death of his father last month. He served briefly as head of state before stepping down under intense pressure from the international community.

Mr. Gnassingbe is the candidate of Togo's ruling party.