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Togo Opposition Leaders Accuse Government of Preventing Free Elections - 2003-05-16

Togo's presidential campaign has begun with opposition leaders accusing the government of preventing free and fair elections.

Seven candidates are competing in the June 1 election, including President Gnassingbe Eyadema, who has been in power since 1967.

The most popular opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, has been excluded from the process because he lives in exile and could not fulfill residency requirements.

Mr. Olympio has called for a campaign of civil disobedience to protest the ruling, but this was immediately followed by a security crackdown, including the detention of his party's second in command, Jean-Pierre Fabre.

Mr. Fabre says election cards have not been sent to many opposition supporters.

Mr. Fabre also says opposition activists are being repeatedly intimidated, detained and questioned by police, making them unlikely to be very active during the campaign.

Each candidate will be given equal air time on state television and radio, but authorities warn politicians will not be allowed to incite unrest.

The constitution was modified in December to allow President Eyadema to seek a third elected mandate. The 1998 elections in which Mr. Olympio got more than 30 percent of the vote were marred by allegations of fraud, including the burning of ballot boxes in opposition strongholds.

Observers from the European parliament and from several African organizations will monitor the June 1 voting, but one Senegalese-based group refused to do so, calling the whole process a masquerade.