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General News of Tuesday, 8 February 2005

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Ecowas To Meet Over Togolese Crisis

Lome, Feb. 8 (Graphic) -- ECOWAS Heads of State and Government will meet tomorrow in the Nigerien capital, Niamey,to hold a special summit on Togo.

Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas,the Executive Secretary of ECOWAS, told journalists in Lome, yesterday after holding discussions with Togolese authorities that ?the next three days will be very critical for Togo as ECOWAS Heads of State prepare to hold a special summit on Togo in Niger on Wednesday, adding that?Togo is very strategic to ECOWAS?.

After Dr Chambas had flown into Lome as the leader of an ECOWAS fact-finding mission, in the company of the Foreign Affairs Minister of Niger,the delegation plunged into serious preliminary consultations with Togolese authorities about developments there following the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema and the swearing in of his son as President.

Dr Chambas was cagey about talking to the press because, in his own words,?the consultations are in a delicate stage?.

?So we have come to listen and learn more about the political situation in Togo? he said. Dr Chambas who had a meeting with the Togolese Head of State, Faure Gnassingbe described the discussions as fruitful. He did not give further details.

?The ECOWAS delegation will be back next week after the ECOWAS Heads of States Summit in Niger,? he declared.

The Executive Secretary agreed to a suggestion that the Togolese political situation had evolved since last Saturday when the military declared Faure Gnassingbe as the Head of State of Togo.

He also observed that it was "encouraging that the Togolese authorities have themselves realised the necessity to respect the country's constitution by seeking to go through the existing constitutional channels and processes in the management of their political transition programme.

Dr Chambas said the delegation had taken note of the decision by Togo's Parliament to amend constitutional provisions which had received the backing of the Constitutional Court to provide some form of legitimacy to the position of Faure Gnassingbe as the new Speaker of Parliament, who automatically became the Interim President of Togo.

Under the constitutional amendment the new Speaker, who automatically becomes the Interim Head of State will serve the remaining term of office of President Eyadema.

He is,therefore, no longer required to call fresh elections within 60 days as demanded by the amended provisions.

In a related development,diplomats from Western and some African countries yesterday boycotted the swearing-in ceremony of Mr Faure Gnassingbe as the new President of Togo.

The ceremony was performed by Togo?s six-member Constitutional Court at the Presidential Palace in Lome. Ambassadors from the United States, France and Germany were conspicuously absent. Nigeria also did not attend.

However, ambassadors from Ghana, Congo, Libya, China, Italy, Belgium and Gabon were present at the installation of Gnassingbe,39, the son of President Gnassingbe Eyadema who died on Saturday.

The ceremony took the form of a simple event without the normal cultural paraphernalia associated with the late President Eyadema.

The new President wearing a navy blue suit with shining black shoes, swore,in the name of God to protect the sanctity of the constitution and territorial integrity of Togo.

Faure Gnassingbe also swore to fulfil all the functions of state loyally, the functions which the constitution conferred on him to defend the rights and preserve the territorial integrity of Togo.

Before the ceremony, a group of students from the Lom? University who were marching to the city centre yesterday to protest against the investiture ceremony of Faure Gnassingbe were dispersed by the security forces.

But the students later succeeded in disrupting lessons in some schools in the capital and forced the children to quit their classrooms.

Observers said that was the first sign of open public dissent to be expressed in Togo since the events of last weekend.