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US Concerned About Prospect of Vote-Rigging, Election Violence in Togo

The United States Friday expressed deep concern about charges of irregularities in the run-up to Sunday's presidential election in Togo. The State Department said it joins the west African regional grouping ECOWAS in "demanding" that the election be free and fair.

Plans for the Togo election are proceeding amid controversy, underlined by Friday's firing of the country's interior minister, who had called for a postponement because of alleged poll-rigging and the threat of violence.

The interior minister, Francois Boko, had urged creation of a transitional government to organize new elections in a year or two. But the country's interim leader, Abbas Bonfoh, dismissed the cabinet official and said the voting would go ahead as planned.

In a written statement, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States noted Mr. Boko's allegations questioning the credibility of the election "with deep concern," and said he showed integrity and courage in going public with them.

Mr. Ereli said the United States joins ECOWAS in "demanding" that Togolese authorities conduct the elections in a free and fair manner, and said the international community will "closely scrutinize" the conduct of the balloting and vote-counting process.

The spokesman said peaceful national reconciliation in Togo, in turmoil since the death of longtime leader Gnassingbe Eyadema in February, requires an election that reflects the will of the Togolese people.

Under questioning earlier at a news briefing, Mr. Ereli said he would not "second guess" the decision of interim leader Bonfoh to have the election Sunday. He said despite the difficulties, a credible vote was still possible. "You can have it both ways. You can take the allegations seriously. You can take steps to prevent the abuses that may take place, or that allegedly may take place. You can have the elections on time. The essential point is that this is Togolese process, the Togolese body politic has decided on a course of action. We not going to second-guess that. But at the same time, we're going to speak about standards and expectations that the international community shares," he said.

Mr. Ereli said the U.S. embassy in Lome and other diplomatic posts in the capital would be sending out diplomats to observe the election, and said U.S.-funded non-governmental organizations had conducted training for local monitors.

Amid reports that activists were seen on the streets of Lome Friday armed with clubs and machetes, the spokesman said the United States calls on all Togolese political party leaders to insist on peaceful conduct by their supporters.

He also cautioned government authorities that security forces must act in strict compliance with international human rights standards.

The presidential contest is a four-candidate race including the ruling party's Faure Gnassingbe, son of the man who ran the west African country for nearly four decades.

The three other candidates have all alleged irregularities in the vote registration process and urged a postponement, though none has withdrawn.