Mon, Mar 07, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Ousted Togolese speaker arrives to try to defuse crisis

AP , LOME, TOGO

Togo's former parliamentary speaker, who had been in line to lead the country before the military named its own man last month, returned home and met with Togo officials trying to ease a political crisis triggered by the takeover.

The former speaker, Fambare Natchaba, had been constitutionally designated to fill the presidency after the death of strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema, but was in Benin when Eyadema died Feb. 5. The military named Eyadema's son as the new leader.

Natchaba flew in to the capital, Lome, on Saturday on a plane arranged by Benin's President Mathieu Kerekou, Togo's Ministry of Information said.

The ministry said Natchaba immediately went into meetings with interim President Bonfoh Abass, the former deputy speaker who was named Togo's latest leader on Feb. 27 after the dictator's son bowed to international pressure to step down.

Parliament has certified Abass' appointment, but Togo's opposition has protested that Natchaba should have been given the post while the West African country prepared for new elections.

Protests

Demonstrations engulfed parts of Lome, and security forces shot dead several protesters.

While Natchaba was out of the country, the governing party stripped the speaker of his post and barred him from re-entering Togo. The military at the time explained it had chosen Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, for the presidency since the speaker was abroad.

West African nations called the appointment of 39-year-old Gnassingbe a military coup, refused to recognize his presidency and slapped sanctions on Togo.

Gnassingbe promised elections, to be held on April 24, and said he would stand as the ruling party's candidate.

The main opposition parties have said they will take part in the elections, ending years of boycotting voting they claimed wouldn't be fair.

Ecowas

The West African bloc, known as ECOWAS, is helping oversee the April election.

Eyadema, who had been Africa's longest-ruling leader, led one of postcolonial Africa's first coups d'etat in 1963 and assumed direct power four years later.

He used troops and repressive rule to resist the wave of democracy that rolled across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s. His regime was accused of torturing and murdering opposition-party members.

Togo, a former French colony that gained independence in 1960, has an annual per capita income of US$270 from an economy based on cocoa, coffee production and mining. The country sits between Ghana and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa.

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