Tensions ease in Togo

Calm was returning slowly on Thursday to the Togo capital, Lomé, after post-election violence that has killed at least 22 people, amid assurances from France that it will not intervene in the affairs of its former West African colony.

French interests have been targeted in the days of violence and looting that followed the official announcement on Tuesday that ruling-party dynasty scion Faure Gnassingbe, the favoured son of the West African state’s late strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema, won the April 24 poll.

”There has been no interference in this presidential poll by France — neither before, nor during, nor will there be afterwards,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Michel Barnier said on French television.

”We hope that calm will be restored and that all those who hold the future of Togo in their hands will communicate with one another.”

At least 22 people have died and more than 100 injured in the latest round of violence to rock the tiny country, which tumbled into chaos after the death of Eyadema, who ruled with an iron fist for nearly four decades.

Most of the victims were opposition supporters, medical sources have said, called into the streets to protest the massive vote fraud they said was responsible for the defeat of their candidate, Emmanuel Akitani Bob.

Despite disparities in ballot tallies around the tiny nation, the April 24 vote has been certified as fair by the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which sent about 150 poll monitors to Togo to observe its first election without Eyadema in nearly four decades.

Togo’s Constitutional Court has yet to confirm Gnassingbe’s victory, which he earned by a nearly 60-40 margin according to the poll results.

Bulldozers swept away heaps of rubbish and tree trunks that had been wrested from the ground by Akitani Bob’s supporters.

Barricades erected a day earlier by security forces were also being pulled down, and traffic was circulating freely along the main southern roads of the seaside capital.

”We worked through the night to empty the city of the barricades,” a weary military police officer said.

Opposition strongholds Be and Dekon remained on tenterhooks amid fears of more violence, stoked by an announcement on Wednesday from Akitani Bob declaring himself president, warning his supporters they may have to sacrifice their lives to ensure his ascension.

Though the main throughways were clear, makeshift barricades erected by the opposition remained in the crowded side streets of the popular neighbourhoods.

”We are not afraid of the military; we will continue to fight,” said one young agitator, sitting comfortably astride a barricade, ignoring the police officers patrolling some distance away.

It was not known whether access to the eastern town of Aneho, along the axis from Lomé to Benin, had been restored after two days of violence involving an armed opposition group that attacked a police post and toll bridge.

The self-proclaimed leader of the Togolese Resistance Committee (CTR) said in Paris that his group of ”almost 100 youths sheltered on Benin’s border” had shot and wounded a gendarme, stolen weapons, built barricades and sustained six dead when police shot back.

”We have about 20 injured in Aneho hospital,” he said, giving his nom de guerre as Charles and saying CTR activists withdrew on running low on ammunition.

On Wednesday, Togo army reinforcements arrived from Lome by helicopter and ”beat up all the youths they found, went into houses, shooting and killing people”, Charles claimed.

Interim Togolese President Abass Bonfoh late on Wednesday dismissed Akitani Bob’s claim as ”fantasy”, saying only the electoral commission and the Constitutional Court can declare a winner of the vote.

”Any auto-proclamation by an unhappy candidate can only be qualified as a fantasy, and is null and void,” said Bonfoh, threatening legal action.

Speaking from the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Ecowas executive secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas also criticised Akitani Bob’s auto-proclamation, saying it is far from a solution to Togo’s problems.

”Self-proclamation and unilateral declaration of presidency, with all due respect, is not a democratic way of selecting presidents,” he said.

Ecowas and the African Union, chaired by West African heavyweight Olusegun Obasanjo, President of Nigeria, have joined calls by the United States and the European Union for a government of national unity in Togo, which has been cut off from international aid for a decade over its democratic deficiencies. — Sapa-AFP

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