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Togo Opposition Leaders Shun President's Offer - 2003-05-31


Main opposition leaders in Togo are rejecting an offer to join a national unity government. The offer was made ahead of Sunday's presidential election by President Gnassingbe Eyadema, Africa's longest ruling leader.

Two leading opposition candidates say President Eyadema is not sincere in his offer for a national unity government.

Speaking to VOA, candidate Emmanuel Akitani Bob, a long-time activist, said it is "a farce."

"We cannot believe an authoritarian government that speaks of unity," he says. Mr. Akitani Bob added "Togolese voters will see through the lie, because they want change."

The other main challenger, Edem Kodjo, a former prime minister, said the offer of a national unity government should be made after the election, not before.

President Eyadema made the offer during a final campaign rally on Friday.

According to authorities, there are more than three million eligible voters, but some residents in the capital, Lome, an opposition stronghold, say it has been very difficult to get the voting cards that will be needed to be allowed to vote on Sunday.

Thousands have been massing daily in front of Lome's city hall trying to get their voting cards, but they complain of a very slow process. One young man, who refused to give his name, said many won't be able to vote.

"Seeing how things are, I don't think we will be able to get our voting cards. Authorities decide who gets to vote," he said. "We can't do anything. We're just sorry about the situation."

More than 100 international observers, most of them from Africa, will monitor Sunday's vote. The European Union refused to send a team, after it was refused permission to send a delegation prior to the vote.

Constitutional changes in December allowed Mr. Eyadema to seek a third five-year term since the start of multi-party elections in 1993. In 1998, authorities stopped vote-counting, and declared Mr. Eyadema the winner, after opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio started posting strong results in Lome.

Mr. Olympio, who lives in exile, has been barred from participating in this year's election because of new residency requirements.

Mr. Eyadema has been in power since a coup in 1967, four years after Mr. Olympio's father, Togo's founding president, was assassinated.