Father-son transition made official as thousands continue to flee

Togo’s constitutional court on Tuesday officially declared Faure Gnassingbe the winner of a presidential election that the opposition says was rigged, as thousands of people continued to flee the West African nation fearing fresh violence.

“Having won the most votes, Faure Gnassingbe is proclaimed the elected president of the Republic of Togo,” Atsou Koffi Amega, the president of the constitutional court, told the scores of diplomats, cabinet ministers and other VIPs summoned for the announcement.

The 39-year-old is due to be sworn in on Wednesday and he will succeed his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who died in February after ruling Togo for almost four decades.

Security was tightened in Lome ahead of the results, with extra troops patrolling the streets and manning junctions. Market traders and shopkeepers closed earlier than usual and there was less traffic on the roads, as people worried about a repeat of the urban warfare that erupted within minutes of Gnassingbe's provisional victory being announced exactly a week ago.

With scores dead and hundreds injured during last week's pitched battles between opposition activists and security forces, thousands of Togolese people continued to flock to the safety of neighbouring countries, scared that another wave of riots and military crackdowns might follow Gnassingbe's confirmation.

But there were no immediate reports of violence.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that by Tuesday morning, some 18,500 refugees had been registered in Benin and Ghana, up from 16,500 just a day earlier.

"The outflow of refugees sparked by the ongoing political crisis in Togo is still rising," UNHCR spokesman Jennifer Pagonis said on Tuesday. "In Benin, refugees are reporting that more arrivals are on the way."

Faure Gnassingbe

Fled before soldiers could come back

Kangni Egbetoula, a 20-year-old tailor, hotfooted it out of the Togolese capital, Lome, on Sunday even though calm had returned.

"We left before the soldiers could come back for us. We are opposition supporters and our house had been marked out," Egbetoula told IRIN at the Lokossa refugee camp in Benin that is now home for him and his elderly mother.

"We were scared about what would happen today when the definitive results were announced and tomorrow when Gnassingbe is sworn in," he said. "It's possible the clashes will erupt again."

Aid workers in Benin, which is now home to some 10,000 refugees, noted that many of the latest arrivals had fled Lome, the scene of some of the most intense clashes last week and where diplomats say the military have waged an intimidation campaign.

"Until this weekend, we had been mostly witnessing arrivals from Aneho, close to the Benin border. Now the new trend is arrivals from Lome and particularly from the (opposition) neighbourhood of Be, in spite of the gradual return to calm," Rafik Saidi, a senior UNHCR official, said.

The original camp set up to deal with the Togolese refugees at Come is already full, UN officials said, and the overspill camp at Lokossa is now being hurriedly expanded to cope with 5,000 refugees.

Aid workers say there are almost 90 Togolese children, aged between 9 and 18, who have fled on their own.

One 15-year-old boy, Amouzou Akwei, recounted the horrors that had forced him to leave his hometown of Aneho, 45 km east of Lome. He first swam and then walked to the border with Benin.

"The soldiers came to our house and told us to go out and clear up the barricades of burning tyres with our bare hands. Some people accepted but we refused so they made us lie down on the scorching tarmac, and they kicked us and hit us with their batons and rifle butts," Akwei told IRIN.

"As we were running away, we bumped into another group of soldiers who started firing on us. One of my friends got a bullet in his head, but we didn't have time to stop. We ran and threw ourselves in the lagoon. The soldiers fired into the water but we kept on swimming until we got to the other side."

"I've come here with nothing. I've no idea where my parents are. I guess I'll stay here until things calm down back home," Akwei added.

Although all was calm on the streets of Lome on Tuesday, Togo's future still looks turbulent.

Opposition calls for popular mobilisation

The opposition, desperate for change after 38 years of rule by Gnassingbe's father, refused to concede defeat on Tuesday.

“The results are unacceptable, we are going to mobilise the population because we have no other option,” Jean-Pierre Fabre, leader of the main UFC opposition party, told IRIN. “Our only option is to resist by all the means available to us constitutionally.”

The opposition had declared its own candidate Emmanuel Bob-Akitani the winner of the elections before calling for the poll to be annulled in nearly half of Togo's districts.

But the constitutional court ignored those pleas. It declared that Gnassingbe had captured 60.15 percent of the vote against Bob-Akitani's 38.25 percent. The official results were almost on a par with last week’s provisional figures.

Welcoming Tuesday's announcement, the director of Gnassingbe’s election campaign, Selom Komi Klassou, told IRIN that “the candidate of peace, of reconciliation and of national unity has been confirmed by the court.”

“This is a great victory for the people of Togo,” he said.

Gnassingbe seized power with the backing of the army within hours of his father's death on 5 February. But he eventually quit and was persuaded to hold polls after violent protests at home and intense international pressure.

Following the 24 April ballot, Gnassingbe has offered to form a government of national unity with the opposition -- a solution Africa mediators are supporting to prevent another violent eruption in an already conflict-weary West Africa.

But the opposition is refusing to enter any power-sharing government on the grounds that the election was rigged and Gnassingbe's rule is illegal. It has demanded that a transitional authority be set up to organise new elections.