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Togo smooths path for new leader after world rebuke

Togo smooths path for new leader after world rebuke

Togo swiftly changed its constitution on Sunday, reacting to worldwide condemnation, to put a legal stamp on the army's appointment of the late President Gnassingbe Eyadema's son to succeed him.
Faure Gnassingbe, sworn in as president by the army on Saturday after the death of Africa's longest serving ruler, will lead the former French colony until 2008.
The army's move had flouted the West African country's original constitution, which said the head of parliament should assume provisional power ahead of elections.
The United Nations, African Union, European Union and former colonial ruler France all quickly condemned the army decision and urged Togo to ensure the transition after Eyadema's death was in line with the constitution.
France put its soldiers in Togo and the region on alert while a source at the European Union initially said Togo's lack of respect for its constitution could put US$100 million of aid destined for the country at risk.
But after the constitution change, a European Commission source conceded this kept within the letter of the law.
"It is a political move that has not violated the constitution. One might feel manipulated but it is in within the lines of the constitution," the source, who did not want to be named, told Reuters in Brussels.
With Togo's borders closed, and the head of the national assembly stuck in neighbouring Benin, parliament simply replaced him with Eyadema's son, which made him the legal successor - according to the constitution.
Parliament also changed the constitution, removing the requirement to hold elections after the president's death and leaving Gnassingbe free to rule until the end of his father's mandate.
"It's disgraceful and shameful. You attack, and then you change the law to legalise the attack. It's beyond belief," said Jean-Pierre Fabre, secretary-general of the Union of Forces for Change, the party of exiled opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio.
In his first speech as president, Gnassingbe, a 39-year-old civilian with a business degree from the United States, pledged to pursue a program of political reform.
"Our country Togo is unreservedly committed to a process of democratisation and a policy of openness which, with your precious support, I expect to pursue to the end," he said.
"The challenges are many and difficult, but I open my arms to everyone who wants to join me," he told parliament.
Eyadema, a former wrestling champion who sported dark suits and rarely removed his sunglasses, seized power in a 1967 coup. He was the archetypal African "Big Man" who brooked little opposition at home during nearly four decades in office.
As word of his death spread, residents in the capital Lome hurried home, but the army's firm stance eased immediate fears of a violent transition. However there was an eerie calm in the coastal city on Sunday, with many still staying indoors.
Togo's government said the whole nation should honor the memory of Eyadema, who died early on Saturday while seeking treatment for an illness abroad, and decreed two months of mourning during which all flags must be flown at half mast.