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 Tuesday, 31 December, 2002, 10:13 GMT
Constitutional 'coup' in Togo
Parliament in Togo has changed the constitution removing clauses that would have forced the president to step down before elections next year.

President Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in a coup in 1967, making him Africa's longest-serving head of state.

Profile: Gnassingbe Eyadema
Africa's longest serving ruler
Seized power in coup in 1967
Accused of human rights violations
Accused of vote rigging
Accused of dealing in blood diamonds
The 65-year-old had said he would respect the constitution, raising hopes that he would not stand in presidential elections due next year.

But the national assembly, which is dominated by members of President Eyadema's Rally of Togolese People, voted unanimously to amend the 1992 constitution forbidding him from seeking a third term in office.

Opposition groups described the move as a constitutional coup.

"We call on the Togolese people to mobilise immediately to oppose this 'coup de force' of President Eyadema," Jean-Pierre Fabre of the opposition Union of Forces for Change party said.

The development is in stark contrast to Kenya's democratic handover on Monday when one of Africa's other "big men", Daniel arap Moi, stepped down after 24 years in power under constitutional arrangements preventing him from standing for office again.

Contrast

Mr Eyadema dominates the political landscape in Togo.

His picture is prominently displayed on billboards across the country.

His image is even on show on lapel badges routinely worn by government officials.

Africa's top 5 'Big Men'
Togo: Gnassingbe Eyadema - April 1967
Gabon: Omar Bongo - December 1967
Libya: Muammar Gaddafi - 1969
Angola: Jose Eduardo dos Santos - 1979
Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe - 1980
But there is fierce criticism of him by the opposition and from international donors.

Elections held in October intended to boost Togo's standing abroad were boycotted by the main opposition parties.

The European Union and other western countries suspended their cooperation with Togo in 1993, after hundreds of people died in political and social unrest in the early 1990s.

President Eyadema has shrugged off criticism of his country's lack of democracy and allegations of widespread human rights abuses to carve out a role as a regional peacemaker.

At present he is chief mediator between Ivory Coast rebels and the government after an uprising in September led to the partition of the country in two.

See also:

30 Dec 02 | Africa
30 Oct 02 | Africa
25 Oct 02 | Africa
15 Nov 01 | Business
21 Jul 99 | Africa
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