AU slaps Togo with sanctions

By Tsegaye Tadesse

Addis Ababa - The African Union suspended Togo on Friday amid rumours the country's leader might quit, despite having said he was confident he could end a crisis triggered by his army-backed appointment.

The AU move was the latest blow to Faure Gnassingbe, who was appointed president by Togo's army just hours after his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, died on February 5 after 38 years in power in the West African country.

The sanctions were announced at a meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa. Diplomats at the meeting said there was a rumour that Gnassingbe, already under pressure from his West African peers, might step down later on Friday.

Togo's ambassador to the AU, Koffi Esan, said he could not confirm the rumour and officials at the presidency in the Togolese capital Lome said they were unaware of any such plans.

African leaders, European officials and the United States have condemned Togo's transfer of power as a coup and demanded that Gnassingbe step down.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has already imposed sanctions on the former French colony.

The Peace and Security Council urged the AU "to take all measures to restore constitutional order to Togo as soon as possible", council commissioner Said Djinnit told reporters.

Gnassingbe's ruling party was meeting in Togo to name a new leader to replace Eyadema. Gnassingbe was widely expected to be appointed and presidency officials said he might go to the meeting later.

The AU decision came after Gnassingbe held talks on Thursday with the leaders of Gabon and Libya.

After meeting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Gnassingbe said he could end the crisis that has isolated Togo, brought thousands of opposition protesters onto the streets and raised fears of further instability in a conflict-ridden region.

"As we prepare to return home from Libya with the advice of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, we are confident that we will resolve the crisis of Togo," Libyan news agency Jana quoted Gnassingbe as saying after meeting Gaddafi in Syrte, Libya.

"The Libyan leader gave us his valuable advice which will enable us to end fully this crisis and bring back Togo to a normal situation," Jana quoted Gnassingbe as saying.

Gnassingbe returned early on Friday to Lome, ahead of the meeting of the Rally for Togolese People party.

After Gnassingbe's nomination, Togo's constitution and electoral code were hastily amended to make him Eyadema's legal successor as decreed by the constitution.

Gnassingbe later promised presidential elections in 60 days but indicated he would remain in power until then.

Togo's main opposition parties reiterated on Friday their calls for Gnassingbe to quit, demanding the reinstatement of the head of the national assembly, Fambare Ouattara Natchaba, who should have taken over on Eyadema's death.

Natchaba was out of the country when Eyadema died, and parliament instead named Gnassingbe as its leader, clearing the way for him to take the presidency, according to the constitution.

  • Additional reporting by Lamine Ghanmi in Tunis, Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa

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