Waving palm tree fronds and screaming his name, thousands gave a hero's welcome Saturday to Gilchrist Olympio as Togo's exiled opposition leader came home to campaign for the first time since the death of the military ruler accused of assassinating his father.
"We've won [elections] already!" yelled Eveme Cudjoe from the throngs that lined the road from the Ghanaian border town of Aflao to Lome, Togo's capital.
"This is the only man that can save the country," people told reporters during the celebration that turned the five-minute drive from the border into a two-hour crawl.
The politician's father and Togo's first democratically elected leader, Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated in a 1963 coup led by Gnassingbe Eyadema, who openly took power four years later.
Eyadema died Feb. 5 and the military installed his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as his successor, but street protests at home and an outcry from abroad forced him to step down.
The Economic Community of West African States, which called Gnassingbe's succession a military coup, mediated and helped call elections scheduled April 24.
Olympio, who fled the country in 1997 after a series of assassination attempts, has made only occasional visits back. On Saturday, he called for dialogue and reconciliation with the military.
"Not all soldiers are enemies of change," he said at a news conference and political rally held later. "The armed forces will help us in the reconstruction effort of the new Togo."