UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
TOGO: Gnassingbe quits as president but opposition protests continue
LOME, 27 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Faure Gnassingbe announced over the weekend that he was standing down as Togo's interim president after seizing power with the backing of the armed forces three weeks ago.
Gnassingbe was declared head of state by the army on 5 February following the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled this small West African country with an iron hand for 38 years.
But following a series of opposition protest demonstrations on the streets of the capital Lome and the imposition of sanctions against Togo by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU), Gnassingbe said in a televised broadcast on Friday night, that he would step aside.
He announced that Abass Bonfoh, the Vice-President of the National Assembly would take over as acting head of state, with a brief to organise presidential elections within a few weeks.
"In order to guarantee the transparency and fairness of this election and to give the same chance to all the different candidates, I have decided to the resign from the post of President of the National Assembly, through which I provisionally excercised the role of President of the Republic," Gnassingbe said.
However, the 39-year-old graduate of business schools in France and the United States,made clear shortly beforehand that he intended to be back in the driving seat shortly.
Earlier on Friday, Gnassingbe was acclaimed chairman of the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), the party founded by his father which holds all but two of the 81 seats in parliament. And a special congress of the RPT nominated him as its presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections.
No date has so far been set for the poll and it is not yet clear whether veteran opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio, who has lived in exile for several years, will be allowed to stand as a candidate.
Announcing his decision to quit as interim head of state, Gnassingbe said he had taken into account the advice of friendly personalities in Africa and the wider world and the recommendations of international organisations to which Togo belonged.
The day before he resigned, Gnassingbe paid a flying visit to Presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
Both are authoritarian leaders who - like Eyadema - have held power for nearly four decades. And diplomats say that - like Eyadema - both have lined up a favoured son to succeed them once they finally bow out.
Gnassingbe's decision to step down as interim president and hold early elections was welcomed by ECOWAS, which promptly lifted a series of diplomatic sanctions against Togo on Saturday.
The organisation said in a statement that Bonfoh's election as speaker of parliament and interim president was "a positive step which ensures the full return to constitutional legality."
ECOWAS reiterated its call for "free, fair and transparent" presidential elections to be held within 60 days.
But the announcement of his planned departure from the presidency failed to impress opposition parties at home.
They continued to call for Fambare Ouattara Natchaba, the man pushed aside by Gnassingbe as President of the National Assembly, to be made interim president instead, in line with the constitution as it existed when Eyadema died.
Thousands of opposition demonstrators took to the streets of Lome again in a peaceful protest march on Saturday to press this demand.
And on Sunday, women's groups opposed to the regime held a fresh march. Thousands of women dressed in red, to symbolise blood and danger, marched through the streets shouting "We don't want Bonfoh, we want Natchaba."
Natchaba's plane was prevented from landing in Togo as he hurried home on the day Eyadema died. A day later he was sacked by parliament which appointed Gnassingbe as the new President of the National Assembly. Natchaba has been living since then in Cotonou in neighbouring Benin, where he has kept a low profile.
Pro-government women's organisations meanwhile held a counter-demonstration on Sunday. The women in this march wore white scarfs as a sign of mourning for Eyadema, who is regarded by the current authorities as "the Father of the Nation."
Both women's marches passed off peacably, but later groups of discontented youths once more fought running battles with the police in the suburb of Be, an opposition stronghold.
The protestors barricaded streets with tree trunks and burning tyres and hurled stones at the police who responded with tear gas.
A correspondent for IRIN at the scene heard several shots being fired and saw one protestor who had been shot in the leg by soldiers firing live bullets into a crowd of protestors.
The distubances in Be were continuing as night fell, but the situation in the rest of Lome, a port city of 800,000 people, remained calm and quiet.
Although Gnassingbe announced that Bonfoh would succeed him as interim head of state, and although Bonfoh was hastily appointed President of the National Assembly at a late-night sitting of parliament, there was no immediate move to install him as interim head of state.
By Sunday night, 48 hours after Gnassingbe asked Bonfoh to take over the country, the newly designated interim president had yet to be formally sworn in.
Neither had he addressed the nation in his new capacity as head of state.
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