US Urges Unity Gov't to Prevent Civil War in W. African State

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Fears of civil war continue to run high in the West African nation of Togo, where the United States and others are urging the formation of a national reconciliation government after disputed presidential elections sparked violence.

Faure Gnassingbe, son of former dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema who died last February, was declared the winner of this week's elections, having garnered 60 percent of the vote to opposition candidate Bob Akitani's 38 percent.

Rejecting the outcome, Akitani declared himself president and called on his supporters to fight for him.

"At the expense of our lives, we must be opposed to people who think they have divine order to govern this country," he said, encouraging his followers to "resist, until the final victory."

The announcement has sparked fears of a civil war in one of Africa's most politically volatile regions.

Opposition militants then went on rampage.

Accusing the international community of doing nothing to contest the results, much of the violence targeted foreigners. Homes and businesses of French, Lebanese, and Chinese nationals were looted.

The upheaval is linked to Togo's difficult history.

Eyadema ruled the small country for 38 years after seizing power in a coup, and on his death left Togo in political and socio-economic disarray.

After the death of Africa's longest-serving ruler, the army tried to install his 39-year-old son as president, in contravention of the constitution. Protests at home and threats of sanctions from regional leaders forced him to step down and call an election.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the U.S. disputed the legitimacy of the election, which he said "fell short of the aspirations" of the Togolese people and the expectations of the international community.

He said irregularities in voter registration and voter card distribution as well as flaws in procedures on election day raised serious questions about the accuracy of the announced outcome.

The U.S. wanted Togo to form a national reconciliation government with the participation of all principal political forces in the country.

Faure invited his opponents to form a government of national unity but the offer was rejected.

Two days of rioting in the capital, Lome, left at least 22 people dead, according to figures given on a government website.

A regional body that has intervened before in conflicts, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), urged Togolese leaders to avoid pushing the country into a civil war.

Ecowas secretary-general Mohammed ibn Chambas said the decision by a losing candidate to declare himself president was "unacceptable."

Ecowas is also pushing for opposing sides to form a national unity government.

Ereli on Thursday welcomed as "a sign of progress" news that the government had reopened border crossings, closed by the government ahead of the poll and kept closed since then as tensions have built.

But he reiterated U.S. condemnation of calls for violent protest by the opposition, stressing "our determination to hold accountable any leader who incites violence or contributes to violence."

The European Union and African Union have also called for calm.

Sandwiched between Benin and Ghana, Togo is a country slightly smaller than West Virginia, with a population of about 5.6 million. The main exports of the former French colony are cocoa, coffee, cotton and phosphate.

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