March 9, 2010 / 1:09 PM / in 10 years

Togo police fire tear gas, poll protests fizzle out

LOME (Reuters) - Police in the Togolese capital Lome fired tear gas to disperse a smaller-than-expected crowd of around 1,000 people protesting at President Faure Gnassingbe’s victory in last week’s election, witnesses said on Tuesday.

Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe waves to his supporters during his electoral campaign at Zio, 30 km north of the capital Lome, February 26, 2010. REUTERS/Noel Kokou Tadegnon

Main opposition party the UFC had called for a mass demonstration against what it said was a fraudulent result, but authorities denied permission to congregate and police soon dispersed the activists who attempted to protest.

“We want change,” youths chanted in the neighbourhood of Be, a UFC stronghold. “We want a different president, and we are ready to die for that.”

Analysts say the vote, the most recent in a series of disputed elections in Africa, risks undermining a trend on the continent in the last decade for political power to come through the ballot box.

But international observers said the poll was smoothly run despite some procedural flaws.

“We pay tribute to ... the Togolese people who have voted in calm conditions, and we call on them to continue to show proof of their sense of responsibility and resolve all electoral disputes according to legal means,” the European Union said in a statement late on Monday.

The disputed election comes close on the heels of other regional setbacks for democracy, including a coup in Niger and street riots over delayed elections in Ivory Coast.

The UFC’s candidate Jean-Pierre Fabre scored around 692,000 votes versus Gnassingbe’s 1.24 million, according to the electoral commission. Weekend protests were quelled by police, and the streets of Lome have been mostly calm.

“We will continue to protest peacefully, and faced with tear gas we will resist,” said UFC vice-president Patrick Lawson.

Another demonstration is scheduled for Saturday.

Gnassingbe’s first election victory, when he succeeded his father in 2005, sparked violent protests and a security backlash in which hundreds were killed.

Togo faced international criticism after the 2005 violence but a parliamentary election two years later was judged fair enough for aid to be restored and ties made with bodies such as the International Monetary Fund.

More than 3,000 local and nearly 500 European and West African observers monitored the vote.

Togo is near the bottom of the U.N.’s human development index and saw several years of negative growth in the past decade.

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