Togo security blocks opposition headquarters

LOME: Togo's top opposition candidate said Monday that security forces have been provoking demonstrators with force, a day after the group staged protests claiming last week's presidential election was rigged to favor the son of the country's longtime dictator.

Anti-riot police sealed off the sandy alleys leading to the headquarters of the opposition party, stranding the country's opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre outside for more than an hour in a tense standoff days after the disputed vote.

The 57-year-old Fabre vowed Sunday to take to the streets every day to protest what he says was a fraudulent election, saying he would only stop when the police had exhausted their stock of tear gas or killed him.

Provisional results late Saturday showed Fabre lost to current President Faure Gnassingbe, whose 1.2 million votes gave him 60.9 percent of the vote. Fabre received 692,584 votes, or 33.9 percent.

Col. Damehane Yark, spokesman for a special election commando unit, said the roads leading to the party's office were being blocked to prevent opposition supporters from marching and disrupting traffic on the main boulevards as they had briefly on Sunday, before being pelted with tear gas.

The security forces placed their fiberglass shields in a line to create a blockade at the mouth of the three passages leading to the office of the Union for the Forces of Change, or UFC, in a downtrodden neighborhood of the capital strewn with trash.

"They are trying to provoke our young people, and then they are going to throw grenades at them. You see?" Fabre said during the standoff with police before entering the opposition headquarters Monday. "This is what they have been doing for the past three days."

Opposition spokesman Eric Dupuy said in a press release that the opposition was planning a large march Tuesday to demand a review of the preliminary results from last week's election.

"We don't have guns, but we are armed psychologically. If they kill us, they will have to kill all of us," said Florent Konon, a 37-year-old unemployed man who says he is willing to die demonstrating against the election results.

The European Union's observation mission in Togo did not mention evidence of ballot stuffing or vote rigging in their preliminary report as the opposition alleges, but did say there is evidence the ruling party may have tried to buy off voters by handing out rice to the country's deeply impoverished people.

Gnassingbe ruled the country for 38 years, only for his son to seize power upon his death on Feb. 5, 2005.

Last week's election is only the second since the death of Gnassingbe. The younger Gnassingbe's victory extends the family's rule into a 44th year and will mean the political dynasty will stay in power for nearly half a century.

Early results indicated that in the provinces where the rice was given out, voter turnout was high and people overwhelmingly voted for Gnassingbe. The district-by-district results also show that voter turnout was extremely low in opposition strongholds, such as Lome.

The opposition claims their voters were systematically intimidated and are traumatized by memories of the last election five years ago in which at least 400 people were killed in postelection violence. Pro-Gnassingbe militias hunted down opposition voters, killing many in their own homes, according to a United Nations report and an investigation by Amnesty International.