Togolese ministers head for showdown in Niger

Lome, Togo - Togolese officials left on Saturday for Niamey in response to an ultimatum by West African leaders to justify the constitutional manoeuvre that put Faure Gnassingbe into power on the death of his father a week ago.

But Gnassingbe himself was absent from the party despite a call by five presidents from the Economic Community of West African States that he appear in person or face immediate sanctions against his country.

A source close to the presidency said the delegation was led by Prime Minister Koffi Sama and included Environment Minister Zoumarou Gnonfame, former presidential adviser Moussa Barquet, the head of the ruling Togolese People's Rally, Dama Dramani, a member of the constitutional court and two senior military officers.

Faure Gnassingbe, 39, was named by the army to succeed his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, when the latter died after ruling the West African country with an iron fist for 38 years.

Parliament promptly changed the constitution - which had provided for the assembly's speaker to act as interim president for two months pending elections - to allow Gnassingbe to take over and rule at least until the end of his father's mandate in 2008.

The move was condemned by Ecowas, the African Union, the European Union, former colonial power France and the United States, with calls for a return to the original constitution.

Five Ecowas presidents had planned to go to Lome on Friday to deliver their message in person, but cancelled the trip after Gnassingbe attempted to switch the venue to one of his northern strongholds, Kara.

The five heads of state then ordered him to attend a meeting in Niamey on Saturday with President Mamadou Tandja, current Ecowas chairman, to explain his power-grab or face immediate sanctions.

Gnassingbe has said he wants legislative elections as soon as possible but made no mention of a poll to choose his father's successor.

Following a crisis summit on Tuesday in Niamey some Ecowas officials talked about placing a travel ban on Togolese officials and even throwing the country out of the 15-nation grouping. - Sapa-AFP

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