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Togo's Opposition Demonstrates for Election Delay

Supporters of Togo's main opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election have clashed with security forces and pro-government activists on the streets of the capital, Lome. They accuse the authorities of trying to rig the poll and are demanding the vote be delayed.

Supporters of Togo's main opposition candidate, Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, blew whistles and beat drums as they wove through the streets early Wednesday, during a march aimed at delaying the presidential election set for April 24.

Opposition activists say they want the vote postponed to July 10 because Togo's election commission is breaking a promise it made to the international community to ensure fair elections. They say a revision of registration lists is excluding many voters in opposition strongholds.

One demonstrator said the days of post-colonial election rigging are over. He said authorities are pretending to be improving voter lists, when they are in fact, doing the opposite.

Protesters were confronted by a strong contingent of government security forces, who blocked the route. A government spokesman said police fired teargas canisters into the crowd after opposition activists attacked a pro-government march that was taking place at the same time.

It remains unclear whether there were injuries on either side. No arrests were reported. And by early afternoon, the atmosphere in Lome had returned to normal.

The presidential candidate for the opposition Union of Forces for Change, Mr. Akitani-Bob, says Togo's ruling party is resorting to fraud as a final means of hanging onto the power it has held for four decades.

He says the opposition is strong in the country's most populous regions. And he says, if free and fair elections were ever held the ruling party would be defeated in a landslide.

Togo's minister of communications, Pitang Tchalla, denies all allegations of vote rigging. He says opposition leaders know they will lose the election and are just making excuses.

"We know that opposition leaders are looking for ways to avoid the election on April 24," he said. "They are looking for arguments to avoid the competition. It's why they say all these things."

The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, imposed sanctions against Togo, after the military installed Faure Gnassingbe as president following the death of his father, longtime leader, Gnassingbe Eyadema, in February.

Those sanctions were eventually lifted under the condition that authorities organize free and fair elections, and electoral lists be revised.

Opposition leaders complain that the April 24 election date has not given them enough time to prepare. They say European and other Western observers have also refused to monitor the vote due to time constraints.