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Opposition candidate chosen but still under wraps; nation mourns Eyadema

[Togo] The burial of Togo's late president Gnassingbe Eyadema is set for Tuesday.
Eyadema's burial is set for Tuesday (IRIN)

Togo's opposition parties have chosen the candidate they will unite behind in next month's presidential election to try to stop the Eyadema family from extending its four decades of rule, but they are engaged in last-minute wrangling over the details of their alliance, politicians and diplomats said on Monday.

The polls, triggered by the death of Africa's longest-serving ruler Gnassingbe Eyadema, are scheduled for 24 April.

The dead president's ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party has already picked his son, Faure Gnassingbe, as its flag bearer but the six-party opposition coalition has yet to unveil its man.

"The candidate has been chosen in principle. Now there are negotiations going on about the political deal," Leopold Gnininvi, the leader of the opposition Democratic Convention of the African People (CDPA) party told IRIN. "There's no problem as far as I'm concerned. The announcement could come at any moment."

Gnininvi would not be drawn on names, but other opposition sources and diplomats said that the opposition will rally behind Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, vice president of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC) which is traditionally scoops the biggest share of votes among the opposition parties.

Bob-Akitani, a retired mining engineer in his 70s, stood against Eyadema in the 2003 presidential election after his party's first-choice candidate Gilchrist Olympio was barred from running for head of state. He lost with 34 percent of the vote to Eyadema's 58 percent.

Olympio, the UFC leader who has been living in exile in Paris for several years, has said he would like to contest the 2005 ballot. But he is likely to be banned from standing once more by a constitutional clause that requires presidential candidates to have lived in Togo for the 12 months prior to the poll.

Opposition leaders were locked in discussions in the capital, Lome, on Monday, hammering out the small print.

"For so long, they have been motivated by the idea of expelling Eyadema from power, and now they have to agree on what they are actually going to offer," one Western diplomat in the oceanside city told IRIN.

While the opposition continues to talk, Eyadema's son is touring West African neighbours.

The 39-year-old former government minister, flew to Gabon on Monday where he met with President Omar Bongo, who came to power in 1967, the same year as Gnassingbe's father.

Last week he was in Niger on Wednesday seeing President Mamadou Tandja, who is also the current head of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). And on Thursday he visited Ghanaian President John Kufuor in Accra.

West African peers came down hard on Gnassingbe, when he seized power with the backing of the army within hours of his father's death and then tampered with the constitution to retroactively legitimise his succession.

But Gnassingbe, faced with unwavering international pressure as well as sometimes violent protests on the streets of Lome, eventually stepped down. Sanctions have now been lifted, ECOWAS ambassadors have returned and Togo is once more back in the fold.

Funeral ceremonies for Eyadema, who ruled this tiny West African nation with an iron fist for 38 years, finally began on Sunday more than a month after he died whilst being flown abroad for medical treatment on 5 February.

The presidents of Benin, Ghana, Niger, Cote d'Ivoire and regional heavyweight Nigeria, all came in person to the marbled Palais des Congres to pay their respects.

A giant portrait of the deceased president, a former wrestler who was rarely seen without his dark sunglasses, overlooked the building with the message "I will always be with you."

"A great man has left us. A baobab... has fallen," said Prime Minister Koffi Sama, comparing the late president to the quintessential African tree which can live for centuries even through droughts.

Eyadema's coffin, draped in the red, yellow and green Togolese flag has now been flown some 400 km north to his native village, Pya where a burial is expected to take place on Tuesday.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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