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Togo Opposition Consolidates Power in Quest to Defeat President - 2003-05-27

An opposition leader in Togo has pulled out of the June 1 presidential election to back another candidate. The opposition politician, Leopold Gnininvi, says he decided to pull out of the race to back Emmanuel Akitani Bob.

He says Mr. Akitani Bob has many supporters, but that few people are actually bothering to get the registration cards they need to vote because, he says, they do not believe he has a chance to win.

"There are too many candidates," he said. "The population is not interested. They are not getting their voting cards. In these conditions, the opposition cannot win. So I tried to create something so the population gets its voting cards before the election."

Mr. Akitani Bob is a 73-year-old former independence campaigner with a background in Togo's lucrative mining industry.

He also has the support of exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio, who has been barred from participating in the June 1 election because of new residency requirements. One-year residency rules were added to the constitution in December, preventing Mr. Olympio from being accepted as a candidate. The son of Togo's first president has been living mostly in Europe since 1963 when his father was assassinated.

Mr. Olympio still has important support in Togo, mainly in the south, where the capital Lome is located. Aides to Mr. Olympio acknowledge Mr. Akitani Bob lacks the popular appeal of their exiled leader, but they are hoping he can make a name for himself in the few days left of the campaign.

In addition to Mr. Akitani Bob, there are four other opposition candidates, each with strong political backgrounds, making it likely the division of their support will pave the way for another victory for President Eyadema, in power since 1967.

Even though West Africa's last Big Man once said he would not run again, the constitutional changes in December allowed him to seek a third mandate since the start of multi-party elections in 1993. The two other votes were marred by allegations of massive fraud.