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Togo Security Forces Stand Guard During Legislative Campaign

In Togo, 6,000 security troops are on guard for the official start of legislative campaigning for October 14 elections.

Candidates are promoting reconciliation in the West African country where recent election violence has killed hundreds and exiled tens of thousands. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West Africa Bureau in Dakar.

The head of security forces for the legislative election, Colonel Mateindou Mompion, says this is the largest security force deployed by the government before an election. The colonel says this election will be different from previous elections that have been rocked by accusations of fraud and deadly clashes between supporters of the long-time ruling Rally for the Togolese People and opposition parties.

Some human rights observers accused security forces in the 2005 election of clubbing civilians, stealing ballot boxes and ransacking homes in opposition strongholds, charges security forces denied.

Contested 2005 election results that installed President Faure Gnassingbe, who took the place of his late father, led to violence that sent tens of thousands fleeing.

The United Nations has begun helping a group of Togolese refugees return home, giving priority to those who want to get back in time to vote.

Colonel Mompion says the Togolese are ready to leave behind this violent election history. He says the future is what counts now.

Mompion says guaranteeing election security is a huge responsibility, for which the military has been preparing for months.

Togolese journalist Modeste Messavussu says voters feel the difference in this election period because of government radio and television announcements discouraging violence, and the high number of state police and U.N. human-rights observers already on the streets.

The U.N. human-rights mission, set up after the 2005 presidential election, has installed five telephone antennas throughout the country, set up two telephone numbers for people to report election-related violence, and trained almost 500 young voters to help at the polls.

Opposition leaders largely boycotted the last legislative election in 2002, accusing organizers of fraud. Many of them are now calling for reconciliation.

Long-time exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio asked his supporters to join him at the polls, his first time to vote since multi-party elections were organized in Togo in 1993.

Opposition candidate with the African People's Democratic Convention and current government minister, Leopold Gninvinvi, says Togolese people are tired of uncertainty and unstable dysfunctional institutions. He says the next legislature needs to work toward a separation of powers and to protect human rights in politics.

More than 2,000 candidates from more than 30 parties are competing for 81 positions. The European Union will send about 100 election observers who will join thousands of others in monitoring the already twice-delayed polls. The European Union has said it will restore full aid, partially cut off since 1993, if the country conducts a fair and transparent election.