Controversial Togo president steps down

President Faure Gnassingbe, facing mounting international pressure since the Togo’s military installed him as leader three weeks ago, has announced he is stepping down and will seek the presidency in April elections.

Gnassingbe resigned late on Friday, just hours after accepting his party’s nomination for the presidential bid.

“I’ve taken the decision to step down from the office of president in the interest of Togo,” he said on state radio. He said his decision will “guarantee transparency and offer an equal chance to all the other candidates”.

Parliament later met in a special session and named Deputy Speaker Bonfoh Abbass to serve as interim president until an elected leader takes office.

Gnassingbe had been under growing pressure from the United States, the United Nations and West African leaders to resign since he was installed on February 5 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the country for 38 years and was Africa’s longest-serving leader.

His earlier refusal to step down had prompted the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to impose sanctions on the government of this West African nation, including an arms embargo and a travel ban. The African Union announced it was joining in the sanctions and suspended the country from all AU activities.

Four protesters died in clashes with security forces during riots in the week after Gnassingbe’s appointment.
Togo had banned all political activity immediately after Eyadema’s death, saying it wanted to preserve calm for national mourning, but lifted the ban last week—45 days before planned.

There was no sign of stepped-up security after the announcement. The streets of Lome, the capital, were quiet.

Togo’s army had announced Gnassingbe’s appointment hours after his father died from a heart attack. Eyadema was the world’s longest-ruling leader after Cuba’s Fidel Castro, using troops and repressive rule to resist the wave of democracy that rolled across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s.

The appointment of Gnassingbe, and subsequent retroactive amendment of the Constitution to make the move technically legal, sparked widespread outrage and deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.

Just a week ago, Gnassingbe bowed to the pressure and announced presidential elections will be held. He also lifted a two-week-old ban on political activity, allowing demonstrations and other events if plans are submitted first to the government.

Togo, a former French colony that gained independence in 1960, has an annual per capita income of $270 from an economy based on cocoa, coffee production and mining. The country sits between Ghana and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa.

The resignation announcement came after conflicting signals about Gnassingbe’s intentions.

A diplomat at AU headquarters in Ethiopia told The Associated Press that the Togo leader would announce his resignation at the party caucus, and a Libyan official who was present at a meeting late on Thursday between Gnassingbe and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi said the Togo leader told Gaddafi that he would step down after returning to Togo.

But when he accepted his party’s nomination, he made no mention of resigning in advance of the mid-April vote.

“I accept with all humility and modesty the honour done me by the ruling party to become its leader and presidential candidate,” the 39-year old had told cheering Togo People’s Rally faithful.

“We’ve got to mobilise and organise so that we don’t let power slip out of our hands,” he said.

West Africa has been slowly emerging from years of turmoil now that bloody conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have quieted down. But new unrest in Côte d’Ivoire and Togo has raised concern that the region will return to chaos yet again.

At the UN on Friday, British ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, speaking during an open Security Council debate on West African problems, criticised the council for staying quiet on the situation in Togo.

“Ecowas and the AU have had the courage to take a stand on Togo,” Jones Parry said. “The secretary general has done so on several occasions. Yet the council has been silent. We have said nothing on Togo. The question the council must ask itself ... is, when does the situation, the developments in a country, actually justify the involvement of the council?”—Sapa-AP

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