- Violent clashes between the various parties in Togo, reports of restrictions on independent media and numerous allegations of irregularities in organising Sunday's presidential elections are raising deep concern in the international community and nationally. An attempt yesterday by the Interior Minister to suspend the poll has failed.
Togo's Interior Minister Francois Boko yesterday night gave the clearest indication yet that Sunday's presidential election could become a very violent affair. The Minister told the press and diplomats that Togo was heading for a "suicidal electoral process". Therefore, he wanted the election to be suspended and an opposition leader to appointed Prime Minister of a transitional government.
- We have reliable information that there is a very real risk of a slide into bloodshed as a result of this poll, whose outcome is uncertain, the Minister said at the press conference. His desire to postpone the poll would meet the demands of the united opposition front, which is challenging the son of late Dictator Gnassingbé Eyadéma - Faure Gnassingbé - of the ruling party.
Minister Boko was however sacked from government today following his attempt to postpone the elections. It was unclear who had stood behind his sudden firing, but sources in Lomé hold that the order must have come from presidential candidate Gnassingbé, who is also the leader of the ruling party of which Mr Boko is member.
The signs of growing violence have indeed been many and it remains unlikely that any one of the two large camps will accept defeat after Sunday's elections. According to the UN, independent media have been prevented from covering the electoral campaign. Further, the UN says, there have been "numerous allegations of irregularities in the organisation of the poll and violent clashes during demonstrations organised by sympathisers of various parties resulting in casualties and reports of arrests."
These reports from Togo have caused a growing international concern. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently urged the opposition and ruling party supporters to refrain from violence. Mr Annan, according to UN headquarters, has been "closely following the situation" ever since the death of Dictator Eyadéma in February, and the following short-lived military coup that handed powers over to Mr Gnassingbé.
In the latest of a series of expressions of UN concern over the past two months, the Special Rapporteurs of the UN's human rights commission, Ambeyi Ligabo and Philip Alston, today called for measures to ensure a free vote in the country. The two invited the Lomé government "to take all the necessary measures to ensure the holding of free, transparent and credible elections within the framework of a democratic state."
Also the growing intimidation of the press is causing concern. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today protested the new Togolese government order that bars private radio and television stations from reporting on the presidential election campaign. "A free election isn't held in the dark. This absurd directive should be scrapped immediately," said CPJ Director Ann Cooper.
A directive issued Friday by Togo's High Audiovisual and Communications Authority (HAAC) says private broadcasters may not "carry out any media coverage" of the candidates' campaigns. The HAAC directive also states that "private radio and television stations are not authorised during the election campaign to organise special programmes or on-air debates featuring candidates or their representatives."
Private radio stations in Lomé appear to be obeying the order and are limiting their campaign coverage to government statements, CPJ sources said. Yesterday, four local media organisations issued a statement in protest, calling the HAAC's decision unconstitutional. "How can the Togolese government pretend to have a democratic election when the press is barred from doing its job?" asked Ms Cooper.
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