LOME, Togo – Togo’s new army-installed president made his first address to the nation Wednesday, offering talks with the exiled opposition and promising general elections as soon as possible.
But West African leaders meeting in neighboring Niger declared Faure Gnassingbe’s ascent to power to be a military coup and demanded the “re-establishment of constitutional order.”
Nine heads of state including Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo issued a statement, refusing to “recognize the government issuing from the coup d’etat.
They said Togolese military’s installing Gnassingbe as president after the death Saturday of his father, President Gnassingbe Eyadema, and parliament’s backing the move amounted to “manipulation of the constitution.”
The leaders said they would send a delegation of heads of state to Togo and that they would recommend sanctions if Togo refused to cooperate. The presidents met in an emergency summit called by Niger’s president Mamadou Tandja, current chairman of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.
Gnassingbe’s speech, carried on state TV and radio, came as a partial strike against his days-old rule showed signs of weakening.
“In spite of all the difficulties we are going through, the implementation of the pledge and commitment given to the European Union for democratic reform to be pursued … in order to hold general elections as early as possible,” Gnassingbe said.
He set no date for the ballot and did not specify whether it would include a presidential vote.
In Paris, Xavier Darcos, France’s junior minister for development, cooperation and French- speaking nations, told parliament that the French government will watch to see that Gnassingbe sticks to his promise to hold general elections as soon as possible.
If the promises are not fulfilled, France will “play its full role” in international efforts on Togo, Darcos said, without elaborating.
The opposition, complaining about the lack of democracy, boycotted the last legislative elections, in 2002, as well as the previous vote, in 1999. Presidential votes in 1993, 1999 and 2003 were all marred by fraud and violence – and won by Eyadema.
The European Union severed aid to Eyadema’s government in 1993 after allegations that security forces had fired upon democracy activists. The United States has pronounced Togo’s transition to democracy “stalled.”
The 53-nation African Union has already threatened to slap sanctions on Togo.