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Son of Togo's Late Leader Wins Election, Sparking Riots

An opposition supporter wielding a knife mans a burning roadblock in Bagida, about 15km from the Togolese capital Lome, in southern Togo
The son of Togo's late leader Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo for 38 years, has won Sunday's controversial presidential election, sparking riots in the capital and calls for popular resistance by the opposition.

Just seconds after the national electoral commission said Faure Gnassingbe had won the presidential vote with a provisional tally of more than 60 percent, opposition militants armed with axes, machetes and sticks, started running in the streets of Lome, burning tires, erecting barricades and stopping cars, eliciting gunfire and tear gas from soldiers and police in riot gear.

Smoke rose in the sky in many parts of the coastal capital.

One of the protesters said he was not scared.

"We want to be killed by the soldiers or we will kill them,” he said. “We won't allow Faure to become president in this country. He will not become president in this country. We don't want Faure. Togo is not the property of the Gnassingbe family. Togo is the property of all the Togolese. We are tired, see [after] 38 years, see the country, see the roads, all of us, we don't get work, we are not doing anything."

Other residents in Lome immediately left public areas and sought refuge inside their homes. One journalist had his car smashed.

The campaign director for the 39-year-old new president immediately appealed for calm.

Komi Klassou said Faure Gnassingbe was no longer a candidate, and as new president he would move swiftly to make changes to bring about reconciliation and change for the country's youth.

But an opposition spokesman, Jean-Pierre Fabre, called for what he called a popular resistance movement.

He said the results were in his words a ridiculous masquerade of fraud, and that youths should take to the streets to prevent Mr. Gnassingbe from taking power. He also blamed the international community saying it was backing the continuation of the Eyadema reign.

The release of the results followed an urgent meeting Monday between Nigerian President and African Union chairman Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Gnassingbe, and the leader of what is known as Togo's radical opposition, Gilchrist Olympio. Mr. Olympio's own father, Togo's founding president, was killed in a coup in which Mr. Eyadema took part in 1963.

A statement released following the Abuja talks said the two political leaders had agreed to form a government of national reconciliation whatever the results. But early Tuesday, Mr. Olympio said he had signed nothing at all, and that only proposals were made.

He was barred from running in Sunday's election because of residency requirements. His party's candidate, Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, was credited with just over 38 percent.

The West African grouping ECOWAS which helped organize the poll said that despite some irregularities and lack of security, overall it thought results reflected the will of Togolese people.

The national electoral commission said the final results did not include several opposition precincts where ballot boxes had been burned or had disappeared, but that it had enough results to proclaim Mr. Gnassingbe president.

The cousin of Gilchrist Olympio, Harry Olympio, and leader of the so-called moderate opposition, got less than one percent. He says his more popular cousin has always opposed Togo's government with street violence.

"Even when Gil met Faure in Abuja, his base doesn't understand things like that,” said Mr. Olympio. “They still are running in a violent way but I hope all Togolese people will calm down and we can run to reconciliation in this country."

He said he expects three to four days of violence in the capital, but that the situation should eventually calm down.

Following Mr. Eyadema's death in early February, there have been repeated street protests causing the deaths of at least a dozen protesters. Faure Gnassingbe initially took over in a military coup, before stepping down and allowing the elections to take place under internal and external pressure.

Opposition leaders have also said new elections, without violence or fraud, should be organized quickly.