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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 February, 2005, 20:50 GMT
Obituary: Gnassingbe Eyadema
Togo's president, Gnassingbe Eyadema
Gnassingbe Eyadema took power in a bloodless coup
President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, who has died aged 69, was one of the last of a generation of African leaders who held on to power for decades in their newly independent states.

President Eyadema was, for his time, Africa's longest-serving ruler - a title he acquired after the death of King Hassan II of Morocco in 1999.

He was particularly associated with a group of Francophone West African leaders who retained close personal links with their counterparts in France, the former colonial power.

Born to a peasant family in northern Togo, the young Sergeant Eyadema seized power in 1967 after staging one of Africa's first coups soon after Togo won independence from France - an achievement noted and copied elsewhere.

He ruled unchallenged for two decades and did not face a multi-party election until 1993, when the collapse of Communism in the Soviet bloc led to a wave of pressure for change across Africa.

Then, as well as in 1998 and in 2003, Mr Eyadema secured re-election, but only after ballots criticised as unfair not only by his opponents.

The European Union suspended aid in 1993 in protest at alleged voting irregularities and human rights violations, although partial diplomatic relations have since been restored.

And an investigation by the United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity after disputed elections in 1998 concluded there had been systematic violations of human rights

Despite earlier pledges to step down at the end of his second elected term in 2003, Eyadema decided to "sacrifice himself once more", in the words of his prime minister, and the constitution was tweaked to let him run again.

He once said that democracy in Africa "moves along at its own pace and in its own way".

In what was seen as effort to improve his image, he had recently started to involve himself in peace initiatives elsewhere in the region, but with little notable success.

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