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Togo Opposition Charges Upcoming Election Fatally Flawed - 2003-05-22

Togo's long-time President Gnassingbe Eyadema has promised peace, prosperity and reconciliation during his first campaign rally before next month's elections. But opposition leaders say that will be difficult because, they charge, the election itself is already fatally flawed.

During his campaign rally in the town on Kpalime Wednesday, President Eyadema said tranquility rather than chaos is needed to rebuild Togo.

The president said everything must be done to avoid civil war and destruction.

Togo has been in an economic slump since the European Union suspended aid in 1993, following multi-party presidential elections that international observers said were rigged.

Opposition leaders say the 2003 elections are also following that pattern. In December, the constitution was modified to allow Mr. Eyadema, who has been in power since 1967, to seek another elected mandate. The constitutional changes also effectively barred the main opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, from running against the president.

Speaking from exile in Paris Wednesday, Mr. Olympio said Togo has been in a state of permanent coup d'etat since Mr. Eyadema took part in the 1963 assassination of Mr. Olympio's father, Togo's founding President Sylvanus Olympio.

Six opposition candidates have been allowed to take part in this year's election, but they say a harsh security crackdown, including repeated detentions of political activists, is making it very difficult for them to mount an effective campaign.

Most have been holding rallies in the capital Lome since the start of the campaign May 16th, including Leopold Gnininvi. Mr. Gnininvi says he doubts he will win, but that it is important to try nonetheless.

At one of his campaign rallies, Mr. Gnininvi calls on voters to think before they vote, rather than - " just to vote automatically."

Each candidate has been given time on state television to present his platform, but communication authorities are censoring those messages before they go on the air.