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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Togo's president signals end of reign
President Gnassingbe Eyadema  of Togo
Eyadema is Africa's longest serving president
By West Africa Correspondent Mark Doyle

The government of Togo has sought to end a row about the length of time President Gnassingbe Eyadema intends to stay in power by announcing that he will respect the constitution.

President Eyadema is the longest serving leader in Africa, having been in power for 34 unbroken years.

He is due to end his latest term in 2003 when the constitution says he cannot stand again.

Prime Minister Agbeyome Kodjo, sparked controversy with opposition parties on Thursday when he said he supported changing the constitution so the president could stay longer in office.

Row

A statement from the government said President Eyadema would scrupulously respect the constitution and since that constitution makes it clear that the president cannot stand beyond the year 2003, this would appear to be conclusive.

The row, which broke as soon it was suggested General Eyadema might stay on longer, was indicative of how completely the president's persona dominates in Togo.

Since seizing control in a military coup he has maintained a firm grip on power.

A personality cult has developed around Mr Eyadema with his picture prominently displayed on billboards across the country - and on lapel badges routinely worn by government officials, even very senior ones.

A multi-party system is in operation in Togo but opposition leaders have contested the results of all recent elections, saying they were rigged in favour of Mr Eyadema.

His opponents want him to go, but his influence is so pervasive in the country that some of them admit privately to trepidation at what may happen when he does.

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See also:

11 Aug 01 | Africa
Riot police disperse Togo demo
10 Jan 01 | Africa
Timeline: Togo
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Togo
22 Jun 01 | Africa
Stricken refugee ship 'saved'
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