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Final day of campaigning before presidential elections

Video by Christopher MOORE , Johan BODIN


Latest update : 2010-03-02

Tuesday marked the final day of campaigning for candidates in Togo's presidential election, which for the majority of voters takes place Thursday. Security forces voted Monday so that they can keep guard when the country as a whole goes to the polls.

AFP - Troops and police cast ballots in preliminary voting Monday for a presidential election in Togo that is seen as a test of the small west African country's democratic progress after decades of dictatorship.

The defence and security forces were called out to vote three days before the rest of the electorate so that they can keep guard when the country as a whole goes to the polls on Thursday.

An AFP correspondent saw long queues outside polling booths at a military regimental camp and the gendamerie headquarters -- the two largest voting centres in the Togolese capital Lome.

"The early voting will allow Togo's armed forces to be free on election day," Togo's chief of general staff, General Essofa Ayeva, told journalists.

Most of the polling stations in Lome opened as planned at 7:00 am (0700 GMT) and voting was scheduled to close at 5:00 pm (1700 GMT).

The number of voting security personnel was not disclosed, but they were casting their ballots at 126 centres in camps and gendarmeries across the country.

Not a single incident was recorded by midday, security officials told AFP.

Presidential elections in Togo in the past have been followed by bloody violence, including in 2005, after the death of former dictator General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years.

When Eyadema died, the military installed his son Faure Gnassingbe in power, causing a domestic and international outcry. Gnassingbe then stood down, and went on to win an election with the help of the ruling Togolese People's Rally.

The violence that followed the disputed vote left up to 800 dead according to various sources, but the United Nations put the toll at between 400 to 500 deaths.

This time round, as he seeks a second term in office, Gnassingbe has made a passionate call for peaceful polls, urging that "we must avoid at all costs to create fresh tensions".

Togo's first democratic election in 15 years was a parliamentary poll in 2007, which led to the resumption of aid by major donors including the European Union.

The EU had cut off aid in 1993 because of the country's human rights record.

"It is the interest of the Togolese people, including politicians, to prove to the international community that the well organised legislative election was not coincidental," one Lome-based diplomat warned ahead of Thursday's poll.

Gnassingbe's second term bid faces challenges from six other candidates in Thursday's poll in the country of some six million people.

Campaigning, which opened on February 16, is due to end at midnight Tuesday. The vote count is set to start as soon as the polling stations close.

Date created : 2010-03-02

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