Togo Opposition Head Barred From Reaching Protest

Togo Opposition Head Barred From Reaching Protest

Published March 9, 2010

LOME, Togo (AP) -- Riot police blocked the top opposition leader from reaching a demonstration he wanted to lead Tuesday, the fourth day of rising tension since the son of the country's former dictator was declared winner of a disputed presidential ballot.

More than 1,000 protesters had gathered to wait for Jean-Pierre Fabre on a downtown boulevard where a march was supposed to take place. The opposition is demanding a review of election results, which once again handed victory to the family that has ruled Togo for the past 43 years.

"I was prevented from reaching," said Fabre, who was reached on his cell phone inside his car minutes after being pelted with tear gas. "They threw tear gas at my car."

Tuesday's march was banned by the government but Fabre has vowed to march everyday to protest what he says was a fraudulent election.

The angry protesters gathered on one side of a boulevard and stood face-to-face with riot police.

The demonstrators hurled insults as helmet-clad security forces pushed them back, ducking behind fiberglass shields. They threw tear gas bombs after the mob began pelting them with rocks. On a side street, demonstrators set fire to a car. Huge orange flames licked out of its sides.

Saturday's provisional results showed Fabre lost to incumbent President Faure Gnassingbe, who won 60.9 percent of the vote. Thursday's election was only the second since the death of Gnassingbe's father, who seized power in a 1967 coup and ruled the country for 38 years only for his son to grab control upon the father's death in 2005.

"Togo is not a kingdom," said 27-year-old mechanic Late Lawson, who had come out to march. "They do not own this country. And we are not the renters of this nation, we own it too. We are going to take it back."

The opposition has attempted to hold daily demonstrations since Saturday, but have been pushed back by riot police each time including on Sunday when a tear gas grenade exploded at Fabre's feet, spraying his face. On Monday, security forces cordoned off the headquarters of Fabre's party, preventing him from entering for more than an hour in a tense standoff.

The elder Gnassingbe came to power after leading the clique of soldiers that killed Togo's first president, Sylvanus Olympio. Gnassingbe held on decade after decade, surviving numerous attempted coups and assassination attempts including one by a member of his own guard who shot at him from point-blank range, piercing the notebook he was carrying.

Fabre's party is led by Gilchrist Olympio, son of the slain president who was disqualified from running in last week's vote after the government alleged he had improperly filled in his health certificate.

Fabre, whose family had served in the first president's government, was chosen as Olympio's stand-in just weeks before the vote, amid confusion inside the party.

The European Union's observation mission in Togo did not mention evidence of ballot stuffing or vote rigging - as the opposition alleges - in a preliminary report released over the weekend.

But the EU mission did say there is evidence the ruling party may have tried to buy off voters by handing out rice to the country's deeply impoverished people. District by district results showed that in the regions where EU observers saw the rice being handed out, voters overwhelmingly voted for Gnassingbe.


Associated Press Writer Ebow Godwin contributed to this report.

Written by <P class="ap-story-p">By RUKMINI CALLIMACHI, Associated Press Writer</P>


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