Togo lawmakers back president

Togo lawmakers have revised the constitution to support a call by army-installed president Faure Gnassingbe for elections in 60 days but stopped short of asking him to step down.

    Gnassingbe was installed as president after his father's death

    The 81-member national assembly held an emergency session on Monday to debate constitutional amendments hastily passed on 6 February to rubberstamp the military power play.


    The military vaulted Gnassingbe into the presidency left vacant by the death of his father, longtime president Gnassingbe Eyadema.

    "The deputies, working in committee, re-adopted the articles as they stood before they were revised, without amendment," a lawmaker from the ruling Rally for the Togolese People's party (RPT) said.

    Under the original terms of the Togolese constitution, the speaker of parliament was to succeed the president for an interim period of 60 days before new elections would be called.

    By a 67-14 margin on 6 February, lawmakers slotted Gnassingbe into the post of speaker - sacking RPT crony Fambare Natchaba Ouattara - and extended his term until 2008, when Eyadema's elected term was to expire.

    Togo scorned

    The international community, led by African heads of state, has heaped scorn on the Lome government, blasting the turn of events as a military coup d'etat.

    South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Gnassingbe had "no constitutional authority or legitimacy to call for the elections or to organize elections," urging him to step down as soon as possible.

    In the meantime Gnassingbe called for an urgent meeting with Nigeria but failed to win over President Olusegun Obasanjo.

    The Togolese delegation had attempted to to convince Obasanjo of their position.

    "President Obasanjo advised them very strongly to retrace their steps to the position of the constitution, and following the position of the constitution, to hold free, fair and transparent elections," Obasanjo's spokeswoman, Remi Oyo said.

    Gnassingbe came to Abuja accompanied by a large entourage of ministers.

    Constitution brushed aside

    Last week he had been sworn into office at the behest of the army after parliament brushed aside a constitution which calls for the speaker of the assembly to act as head of state pending elections to be held within 60 days.

    Togo's ECOWAS neighbours have led a chorus of international condemnation of the powerplay and Nigeria has been the most vociferous in its disapproval of what it calls Gnassingbe's "coup d'etat".

    "...they took a decision because they wanted to ensure that the state was not rudderless"

    Remi Oyo,
    Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo's spokeswoman

    Oyo said that Gnassingbe and the large delegation of ministers who accompanied him tried to explain their decision: "They told the president of the anxiety that had following the death of President Eyadema, the fear of the outbreak of violence, and that they took a decision because they wanted to ensure that the state was not rudderless."

    The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened Togo with sanctions, including its possible expulsion from the 15-nation block, if Gnassingbe does not take rapid steps to restore constitutional rule.

    Gnassingbe was brought in from the airport in a car which bore no flag on its bonnet and he was not accorded the honour guard and special reception which is normally laid on for recognised heads of state.

    Nigeria recalled embassador

    Nigeria, the region's military and economic giant has recalled its ambassador from Togo, a tiny republic of 4.7 million people wedged between Ghana and Benin, and has slapped travel restrictions on Togolese officials.

    Three protestors were killed on
    Saturday and another on Monday

    On Wednesday, Nigeria's Foreign Minister Olu Adeniji had said on his return from talks in Lome that he expected Gnassingbe to announce later that day to the Togolese people that he was ready to step down. He did not do so.

    Togo's opposition has tried to mount a non-violent resistance campaign to force Gnassingbe to step down but has failed to generate much support among the population, which fears reprisals from the well-armed and disciplined military.

    Three people were shot dead by police during demonstrations on Saturday and another on Monday.



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