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Oppositon Parties Say Togo Election Was Rigged - 2003-06-01

Opposition parties are claiming Togo's presidential elections Sunday were rigged in favor of Africa's longest-ruling leader Gnassingbe Eyadema, and are calling for the cancellation of the ballot.

At a press conference held just as Sunday's voting ended, opposition candidate Yawovi Agboyibo called for the vote's cancellation because of alleged ballot-stuffing in pro-government areas and a lack of voting papers in opposition strongholds.

Campaign managers for another candidate, activist Emmanuel Akitani Bob are also calling for the cancellation of the vote and new elections, saying there was vote-rigging across Togo in favor of President Eyadema.

The long-time ruler has been in power since a coup in 1967. Early results at several polling stations in Lome gave Mr. Akitani Bob a wide lead.

Interior Minister Francois Boko, who is supervising the vote-counting, says turn-out was high at 70 percent and that opposition leaders are acting in bad faith by calling for new elections. In the run-up to the vote, President Eyadema campaigned on a platform of stability and security while the five opposition candidates said it was time for change.

In Lome, lines were long in the morning, but about half the people who showed up to vote were turned away because they did not have voting cards. These cards needed to be obtained before the election took place, but many thought they would be able to get them at polling stations.

In areas 30 kilometers north of Lome, groups of youths who were prevented from voting attacked and damaged several polling stations. They also put up barricades, but were quickly dispersed by police.

Jean-Claude Dakitse, an election observer for an opposition party, says he believes the strict rules of this election prevented real democracy.

"Today is a big day for us. We must hold a presidential election," he said. "But today, this is the first time when they did not bring the rest of the cards at the same time with the regular things to vote. It is very bad, because these elections are very important for Togo."

One of the international observers, Walter Fauntroy, from the U.S. based National Black Leadership Roundtable, says he was also concerned about the issue of voting cards.

"The only thing that troubles me is that in several of the polling places we have encountered people who came expecting to pick-up their cards and could not vote," he said. "Apparently you must register and then pick-up a card, and Saturday was the last day and we have had reports which we cannot be certain that when they went the last day they were not open and that they were told to come today and that their cards would be taken care of."

Many young residents in popular neighborhoods of Lome said they had been trying to get their cards since earlier this month but that authorities were blocking the procedure.

Final voting results could be available as early as Monday. Under new rules, a candidate with the most votes wins even without obtaining a majority.