Isolated Gnassingbe makes whistle-stop visit to Gabon and Libya

Faure Gnassingbe, the army-installed president of Togo, flew to Gabon and Libya on Thursday to discuss a way out of his growing international isolation with two of Africa's longest-serving leaders.

Gnassingbe has been banned from travelling to West African states after he seized power in defiance of the constitution following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, on 5 February.

The 39-year-old Togolese leader, who has been told to step down by the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), began his Thursday tour in Gabon, whose president Omar Bongo became Africa's longest serving leader when Eyadema died.

"We've talked. He (Bongo) gave me advice about the advantages and inconveniences of each solution," Gnassingbe was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP as he returned to Libreville airport after two hours of talks with the Gabonese president.

This comment was the clearest indication yet that Gnassingbe, who was catapulted into the presidency by the army within hours of his father's death, might still be considering stepping down.

Rumours that he might quit have been doing the rounds in the Togolese capital, Lome, both in opposition circles and among members of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party.

Gabonese and Togolese official sources said Gnassingbe flew on to Libya, where he was due to meet Muamar Gaddafi, who has held power continuously for 36 years.

ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) have branded the father-to-son transition of power in Togo as a military coup and want Gnassingbe to step aside to allow an independent figure to lead the country into presidential elections, promised for early April.

Alpha Oumar Koumare, the President of the Commission of the AU and the governments of the United States and South Africa have all very bluntly urged Gnassingbe to resign.

But France, the former colonial power in Togo, and the West African country's three immediate neighbours -- Ghana, Benin and Burkina Faso -- have so far refrained from telling him publicly to stand down.

Sanctions slapped on Togo by ECOWAS at the weekend mean Gnassingbe can no longer travel to any of the other 14 member countries of the organisation.

Even in Gabon, which is part of the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), the Togolese leader was not received with the honours and ceremony usually accorded to visiting heads of state.

There was no guard of honour to receive him at the airport and no military band to play the Togolese national anthem. And he was received on the tarmac by Gabon's vice-president, Divungi Di Dinge, not Bongo himself.

The long-serving Gabonese leader, who like Eyadema has groomed a favoured son to follow him into the top levels of government, has not spoken publicly about the transition crisis in Togo. But on hearing of Eyadema's death three weeks ago, he said: "(It) is a great loss for Africa. But we must respect his memory, the laws that he left behind and the constitution."

Togo's parliament, stacked with members of the ruling RPT party, amended the constitution and electoral code retroactively to legitimise Gnassingbe's seizure of power and enable him to rule for three years without holding fresh elections.

However, the constitutional changes were reversed on Monday under international pressure, to restore the provision for presidential elections to be held within 60 days of Eyadema's death.

While Gnassingbe jetted across the continent on Thursday, the AU postponed a meeting to consider imposing its own sanctions against Togo until Friday.

A spokesman for the 53-nation body said the delay would allow delegates time to return to AU headquarters in Addis Ababa from a summit in Swaziland and be adequately briefed.