Vote Outcome Sparks Protests in Togo

Opposition supporters protesting the presidential election victory by the son of Togo's longtime dictator threw Molotov cocktails and rocks during street clashes with security forces in the capital Wednesday, leaving at least six people dead and some foreign embassies damaged.

The dead included at least three civilians, said Gerard Besson, an International Committee of the Red Cross (search) delegate. At least 100 people were reported wounded in the clashes that began Tuesday.

Interior Minister Folly Bazi Katari reported heavy looting in Lome.

"Those responsible for these actions will be severely punished," he said. "This is not political protest any more, but robbery and destruction."

Clashes pitting riot police against opposition party supporters began after the announcement that Faure Gnassingbe (search) had won Sunday's presidential election. Gnassingbe won 1.3 million votes, or 60 percent, while main opposition candidate Bob Akitani (search) took 841,000, or 38 percent, electoral commission Chairwoman Kissem Tchangai Walla said.

Balloting in this impoverished West African nation was marred by violence and allegations of vote-tampering.

After the results were announced, mobs of young men raged across the capital, setting stacks of tires ablaze and unleashing plumes of smoke that darkened the horizon. Protesters used machetes and nail-studded clubs to battle police and soldiers.

Through the afternoon, security forces with tear gas and concussion grenades scattered the protesters.

By late Tuesday, more than 100 wounded people had been admitted to Lome's main hospital, said Abram Morel, a Red Cross medical coordinator. Several people suffered gunshot wounds, while others were beaten by protesters and security forces, he said.

The military had installed Gnassingbe as president shortly after his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema (search), died of a heart attack Feb. 5. Eyadema's 38 years in power had made him Africa's longest-ruling dictator. Amid heavy international pressure, the 39-year-old son agreed to an election.

Akitani has been in hiding since Sunday's balloting. The leader of his party, Gilchrist Olympio (search), called for new elections and said it was very unlikely his party would follow through on an earlier pledge to join a national unity government.

Olympio told the French-language La Croix newspaper in comments reported Wednesday he would have to consult colleagues before giving a definitive answer, "but I can tell you already, it's 90 percent (sure) that we won't accept joining this government."

"The election we just had is a joke," Olympio told La Croix. "There was massive fraud so it's difficult for a serious political party to recognize such a result."

Olympio and Gnassingbe agreed Monday in nearby Nigeria that whoever won would form a government of national unity. Nigeria, which brokered the unity government deal now in question, was one of the West African nations that intervened to ensure a democratic succession in Togo, and it now does not want to see its efforts destroyed by violence.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Tuesday that the proposal of a unity government "is an initiative that we support because we believe ... that an inclusive government focused on national reconciliation would be a positive development."

He said the United States, together with the African Union (search) and the Economic Community of West African States (search), or ECOWAS, would try to get a unity government functioning "as a way of healing the divisions in Togo and as a means of promoting a political way forward."

Ereli called on the government and opposition to commit "themselves to a peaceful way forward."

A spokeswoman for the 15-nation ECOWAS declared Tuesday that the elections had been fair, saying votes uncounted amid Sunday's violence in Lome were not enough to cause concern.

"The polls satisfy the criteria of credibility and international standards," said Adrienne Diop, spokeswoman for the regional body, which had 127 observers in Togo.

Gnassingbe had promised to bring together the country's political parties, long divided by distrust and suspicion under Eyadema.

Despite his efforts to escape his father's legacy, many fear Gnassingbe is only a pawn of his father's political machine, which has left the country of 5 million people in economic shambles.