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Togo Opposition Disputes Vote Count

Opposition parties in Togo say votes from Sunday's legislative election have been counted unfairly, but international observers say the election has been largely free and fair. Analysts say the positive report will pave the way for increased European Union aid for the impoverished country. Selah Hennessy reports from the VOA West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The secretary-general of the opposition party Union of Forces for Change, Jean Pierre Fabre, says his party will not accept the election results.

"The election has not been free and fair. The voting took place correctly, but the counting we discovered all the irregularities," he said.

He adds that stamps that were supposed to verify each ballot were not used.

"The stamps that were given in order to identify the votings were stolen in the offices, and the ballot boxes were not closed," he said.

As a result, he says, many votes cast for the opposition were discounted.

But Fiona Hall, leader of an 80-member European Union monitoring team, says ballots without stamps are still valid.

"The national election commission declared that those ballot papers would be valid enough without the stickers and that was a good common sense good will solution to a practical problem," said Hall.

The European Union says over-all the election was satisfactory. Observers from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, say the election was free, fair and open.

Africa analyst Alex Vines, of the London-based research group Chatham House, says this is a hugely important election for Togo.

"It will be a breath of fresh air, and it will be new terrain for the Togolese, which is why this is such an important moment, not only for the history of Togo, but for Africa," he said.

Elections in Togo have been marred by violence since a multi-party system was introduced in the early 1990s.

Human rights observers said a 2005 presidential election, in which President Faure Gnassingbe replaced his late father, ended in a bloody security crackdown. Hundreds were reported dead, and tens of thousands fled the country.

Vines says this election gives Togo the chance to join with other West African countries, including Benin and Sierra Leone, in a trend towards conducting free, democratic elections.

He says it may also give Togo the chance to pull itself out of what he calls the country's economic stagnation.

"If the 3,000 election observers, the majority of them, deem the elections as basically free and fair that will open up opportunities for Togo to get aid, especially from the European Union and restore its relationship so there is everything to gain," he said.

The European Union, which cut off aid to Togo in 1993 and only partially restored it three years ago, has said it will restore full aid following fair and transparent elections.