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Voters Wait for Results from Togo Elections - 2003-06-02

People in the West African country of Togo are awaiting results from Sunday's presidential election in which Africa's longest-ruling leader, Gnassingbe Eyadema, faced a stiff opposition challenge.

Most of Togo's capital, Lome, was at a standstill Monday, one day after the presidential vote, with the main market closed and many other businesses shut down. People are apparently concerned about what might happen when the election results are announced.

But one part of the city was busy - the headquarters of the main opposition challenger Emmanuel Akitani Bob, who ran for the Party for the Forces of Change. Mr. Akitani Bob went into the election with the support of popular exiled opposition leader, Gilchrist Olympio, who was barred from running because of new residency requirements.

At Mr. Akitani Bob's party headquarters, hundreds of activists chant for President Eyadema's removal after 36 years in power. Some say they will take to the streets if the will of the people is not respected.

Togo's electoral commission, which had promised results by Monday, has delayed its announcement.

The president of the youth wing of the Party for the Forces of Change, Koffi Agano, alleges electoral officials are trying to ensure President Eyadema is the winner, regardless of what the real results may be.

"They are afraid to give the real results, because in the south of the country, PFC, the party which I support now, is the winner of the elections but when we hear at this moment that in the north of the country, President Eyadema, is in the first position, it's not true," he said. "What we need to do now is wait for the real results and see what we can do for the appropriate reaction."

Opposition delegates say they were barred from the vote counting process in some northern areas, which are strongholds of Mr. Eyadema. They also say there were instances of ballot box stuffing, with government supporters adding illegal ballots to legal ones.

On Sunday, main opposition candidates called for the election to be declared invalid because of alleged massive fraud.

Interior Minister Francois Boko says allegations of fraud are being investigated, but that the call for new elections is exaggerated. He says he is also waiting for the election results, and that he has heard reports Mr. Akitani Bob won as much as 80 percent of the vote in Lome. Mr. Boko says overall turnout was high at about 70 percent.

Interior Minister Boko says he hopes that whatever the results may be, violence will be avoided. "I believe in the genie of Togolese people that this beautiful country will not break up, and I think that people saying that it might happen is to make them afraid," he said. "I believe we are intelligent and we can have a consensus that all Togolese people can live in freedom."

About 200 international observers monitored the vote, most of them from Africa. Many observers say the elections went well, but they also expressed concern about a large percentage of would-be voters who were turned away from polling stations because they did not have their voting cards. Unlike in previous elections in Togo, these cards were not available at polling stations on voting day, but needed to be obtained before the vote.

Groups of youths who were not allowed to vote attacked several polling stations north of Lome on Sunday.