France calls for free elections in Togo

7th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 7 (AFP) - The death of president Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo removes one more of the old guard which held sway over France's former west African colonies and kept Paris's favours despite ignoring democratic values.

PARIS, Feb 7 (AFP) - The death of president Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo removes one more of the old guard which held sway over France's former west African colonies and kept Paris's favours despite ignoring democratic values.

But French President Jacques Chirac signalled that the successors to such dinosaurs cannot expect France to turn a blind eye to abuses, with a call for respect for Togo's constitution after the army installed Eyadema's son in power.

Chirac had mourned Eyadema as an ally of France and "a personal friend" soon after the death of the Togolese strongman was announced, while expressing the certainty that "the Togolese people will unite democratically in this trial, which comes just as new prospects are opening up for Togo."

But the Togolese army and the parliament swiftly disillusioned Chirac, respectively naming Eyadema's son Faure Gnassingbe as his successor and changing the constitution to enable him to rule at least until 2008.

The African Union called the move a military coup, and called for respect for the original constitution, under which the speaker of parliament would be interim president pending elections within 60 days.

The speaker, Fambare Natbacha Ouattara, was out of the country when Eyadema's death from unspecified causes was announced.

The military closed the borders to prevent him returning, and parliament voted him out of office, naming Gnassingbe in his place.

Chirac swung into line behind the African Union, following talks with other African heads of state whom his office did not name, condemning "all forms of force."

"France supports the efforts of the African Union and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to convince the Togolese political forces to maintain strict respect for the constitution," he said.

The French foreign ministry also warned Lome of the threat to dialogue with the European Union, which had been restarted recently and resulted in a number of concessions by Eyadema last year in a bid to relaunch aid cut off since 1993.

And Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said that "the days of coups in Africa are over," as France placed its troops in the west African region on alert.

"France expresses its concern over the modifications which deviate from the institutional process provided for in the Togolese constitution," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marie Masdupuy told journalists Monday.

Paris "recalls in particular the importance of the swift organisation of free and democratic elections to put an end to the period of transition resulting from the death of president Eyadema and give legitimacy to (Togo's) institutions," she said.

In Eyadema's lifetime, Chirac was a strong supporter of the Togolese ruler, who seized power in a military coup in 1967 and knew five successive French presidents.

On a visit to Togo in 1999, Chirac dismissed a highly critical report of human rights group Amnesty International, and in his reaction to Eyadema's death highlighted the latter's efforts at regional mediation over recent years.

In 2003 Paris stayed silent when Eyadema changed the constitution to enable him to stand again for the presidency and exclude his exiled opponent, Gilchrist Olympio.

Chirac also constantly lobbied the European Union to normalise relations with Togo, which was hard hit economically by the loss of EU aid.

The plunge in relations between Paris and Lome following Eyadema's death was also evident from the Togolese end: Communications Minister Pitang Tchalla hit out at "calls for revolt and destabilisation broadcast by certain foreign media."

He singled out state-owned Radio France Internationale (RFI), accusing it of "wanting to set Togo ablaze."

Eyadema's death leaves three "dinosaurs" still clinging on to power in the former French West Africa through one controversial election after another.

They are Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, who now becomes the continent's longest-ruling president, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo Republic, and Paul Biya of Cameroon.

Both Bongo and Biya paid fulsome tributes to Eyadema, declining to comment on events following his death. While Bongo also said the Togolese constitution should be respected, and expressed concern over Togo's relations with the EU, he added, "I am not criticising anyone."


Subject: French News

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