Togo's new leader promises elections, but doesn't say when

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Thursday, February 10, 2005 The new leader of Togo, the late president Gnassingbé Eyadéma's son, Faure Gnassingbé, pledged to hold "free and transparent elections which reflect the will of the people" as soon as possible, though he did not mention a specific timeframe, nor did he address international criticism of his ascession to power.

Togolese politics have become a subject of criticism by the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations after the death of Eyadéma late last week. Eyadéma was Africa's longest-ruling leader whose 38-year rule was marked by government-sponsored violence and the stifling of political expression.

The Constitution of Togo was amended to permit Eyadéma to retain power, to allow more than two five-year terms in office, and to lower the minimum age for a president from 45 to 35. The latter move was seen as a way to allow the succession of the presidency to Eyadéma's son, then only 35 years old.

When Eyadéma died on Saturday of a heart attack, the country's Constitution called for power to be transferred to the head of the national assembly. Instead, Faure Gnassingbé assumed power and the Constitution was amended to allow this, causing criticism from foreign commentators.

Faure Gnassingbé also promised reforms, and an open dialog with the opposition parties. However, with the opposition leader out of the country since an assassination attempt in 1992, and the presidential term not set to expire until 2008, it is not clear how much change these promises will bring in the near future.

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