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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Tuesday 3 May 2005

TOGO: More than 16,500 flee as edgy Lome awaits official poll results

LOME, 2 May 2005 (IRIN) - More than 16,500 people have fled Togo to escape post-election violence which could re-erupt, diplomats warn, when the constitutional court officially confirms the results of the disputed 24 April presidential poll, probably on Tuesday.

The small West African nation spun into chaos a week ago on Tuesday when Faure Gnassingbe, son of the ruler of Togo for 38 years, Gnassingbe Eyadema, was declared winner of the poll, according to provisional results.

The prospect of a father-son transition sent angry youths spilling onto the streets, and the opposition, which said the vote was rigged and the result a fraud, called on the country to resist.

But security forces moved in to quell the unrest and restore order on the streets.

As shops, banks and business activity in Lome slowly returned to normal on Monday after an army clear up, droves of frightened people sought refuge across the borders in neighbouring Benin or Ghana, or in the safety of small villages far from big city violence.

"We don't know whether to go or to stay," said a secondary school teacher near the main bus station in Lome.

One young man piled a TV set and hi-fi atop a mini-bus heading for the countryside and said: "I'm taking my things to the village to make sure they're safe in case of trouble. But I'm coming straight back."

In the Lome neighbourhood of Be, which is an opposition stronghold, a resident said calm had returned since the army moved in late last week and forced people to clean up the barricades and other leftovers from the street fighting.

"Everyone's gone to Ghana or Benin, there's nobody left in Be," he said. "The army moved in and beat people up. Everyone's scared."

“Men in fatigues” strike fear into hearts

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that more than 9,000 refugees had been registered in Benin and around 7,500 in Ghana. Many of the most recent arrivals were from Be, said Rafik Saidi, the agency's regional representative.

Many of the refugees claimed they were harassed by security forces in Togo and some were suffering from bullet wounds.

The government last week put the casualty toll at 22 but a spokesman for the six-party opposition coalition, Yawovi Agboyibo, said this weekend that 106 people had died and hundreds had been injured.

At the offices of Togo's Human Rights League, one man told IRIN that his brother had been shot dead at 10 p.m. on Sunday "by men in fatigues". His wife and four children were beaten up so badly that one daughter was in hospital and his 14-year-old son could no longer see.

"We don't know why, they said nothing. They just stormed into the house. Now my brother is in the morgue," said the resident of the Lome suburb of Baguida, who did not want to be identified.

The first wave of refugees into Benin last week said they had fled Togo after being shot or being beaten up by security forces, UNHCR spokesman Marcel van Maastrigt told IRIN by telephone from the southern border town of Hilakondji.

"But most of the people who've arrived over the last couple of days say they are leaving the country as a precaution. They're worried that something will happen," he added.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse said on Monday that the constitutional court would hand down the official results of the election on Tuesday afternoon, and that Gnassingbe, who ran for the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT) would be sworn in on Wednesday.

The provisional result gave 39-year-old Gnassingbe 60 percent of the vote and Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, the 74-year-old candidate running or a six-party opposition coalition, 38 percent.

More trouble expected ahead

"The violence will just start up again with the official announcement of the results," said one western diplomat.

The UNHCR's van Maastrigt agreed. "Tomorrow's election results may well trigger a new battle between the two sides," he said.

West African diplomats flew into Lome this weekend in a new effort to find a political solution to the crisis but there was little concrete sign of progress.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in its executive-secretary, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Niger's Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou and the Nigerian Minister of Cooperation and Integration in Africa, Lawan Guba.

"The delegation is being despatched by the ECOWAS Chairman, President Mamadou Tandja of Niger in continuation of ongoing efforts by the region to resolve the crisis in the country," the 15-nation body said in a statement.

Opposition coalition spokesman Agboyibo told reporters after meeting the envoys that it requested "protection for the civilian population given the deterioration of the situation."

He also said the opposition had called for the provisional election results that were announced by the electoral commission to be compared with the ballots counted in each box.

A spokesman for the RPT, Dama Dramani, said the ruling party for its part had told the diplomats "that we won the elections and there's no reason why we would maintain the violence."

The RPT also had reiterated that it was ready to form a unity government, Dramani said.

The opposition has rejected any such request because it refuses to recognise Gnassingbe as the winner of the poll.

Togo’s troubles began on 5 February when Eyadema died. His son seized power with the backing of the army but eventually quit and agreed to hold polls after intense international pressure and violent protests at home.

Sporadic violence continued in the build-up to Sunday's polls and even before the election results were announced, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo said he had brokered a deal where the two sides would form a government of national unity.

However, Gilchrist Olympio, the main opposition leader who delegated Bob-Akitani his proxy after being banned from contesting the election himself, said the opposition would not stomach being a puppet.

"It's out of the question being a second-class citizen," he told IRIN by telephone from Ghana.

"We want a new opposition-government structure which would organise new elections... presidential and legislative, with all that that entails: revising voter lists, distributing new cards, using indelible ink," he added.



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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