Togo's opposition, pro-government backers face off



13/03/2010

Togo's opposition, pro-government backers face off



Thousands of opposition supporters and rivals backing President Faure Gnassingbe faced off in Lome on Saturday, staging competing rallies nine days after Gnassingbe's disputed reelection.

Security forces intervened to form a barrier as rival marches bore down on a central square in the capital, averting potentially violent clashes amid a tense standoff.
Opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre claims that he was robbed of victory by Gnassingbe in the March 4 presidential poll and supporters of his Union of Forces for Change (UFC) turned out in force for the protest, donning yellow tee-shirts before a planned march through the city.

"Every time, they rob us, but this time we will show them we are watching and will not give up," said Fabre supporter Yves Messan, a motorbike taxi driver.
Fabre supporters wielded banners demanding that their votes be counted with one reading "Victory or death, but with dignity."

Some turned on journalists as tension grew, accusing them of "creating problems" by telling "lies."

Fabre's party and three other smaller opposition parties are contesting the results of the presidential poll which officials say was won by Gnassingbe with 60.92 percent of votes.

Fabre, who attended the rally in person, scored 33.94 percent in the official vote count and maintains that electoral fraud robbed him of victory.
But backers of the president, who say the election was free and fair, decided to launch their own downtown march while wearing white tee-shirts with Gnassingbe's image on them.

In a more festive atmosphere than the opposition, they were singing and chanting slogans to celebrate victory, witnesses said.
"Long Live Faure" and "We want the young one," they chanted, a reference to Gnassingbe's father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years. Following his death, Gnassingbe took power in 2005.

"We came here to support the young one because he won. He should be allowed to finish his second term because he is doing a lot for our country," said Ali Alazou, a pro-government rally official.

As if in response to opposition cries of fraud, one pro-government rally banner said "the dogs are barking while the procession passes by".

Officials earlier said that the rival marches which began from different areas of the capital were routed separately and pro-government and opposition supporters were not expected to come face to face.

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