- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

LOME, Togo — Parliament hastily amended the constitution yesterday to put a legal veneer on the military’s appointment of Faure Gnassingbe, 39, to replace his deceased father as president, voiding the need for new elections until 2008.

The military, within hours of the announcement of Gnassingbe Eyadema’s death on Saturday, named his son president, contravening a constitution that called for the speaker of parliament to succeed the head of state until elections could be held in 60 days.

The extraordinary session of the 81-member national assembly, dominated by Mr. Eyadema’s ruling Togo People’s Rally party, overwhelmingly approved Faure Gnassingbe as speaker of parliament. It then passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to complete his father’s term, which expires in 2008.

The African Union, trying to put decades of coups on the continent behind it, condemned the army appointment.

“The constitutional order must be re-established so that power can be held by the president of the national assembly,” said Adam Thiam, spokesman for African Union Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare. “This administration will not be recognized because it comes from a coup d’etat.”

France, Togo’s colonial ruler until 1960, put its troops in the region on alert in case they are needed to protect 2,500 French citizens in the West African nation of 5.5 million.

Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years, suffered a heart attack Saturday and reportedly died as he was being rushed to Europe for treatment. He was 69.

The army move and parliament’s endorsement reflected a desire by Mr. Eyadema’s minority Kabye ethnic group to hold on to power. The Kabye dominate army ranks, as well as the ruling party.

Before being declared president Saturday, Faure Gnassingbe was a communications minister and a member of parliament for Blitta, in central Togo. He was present during yesterday’s session.

Family names often are reversed in Africa.

Mr. Eyadema took power in 1967, four years after abetting one of sub-Saharan Africa’s first post-colonial coups.

Along with leaders of Zimbabwe, Guinea and Cameroon, he was considered one of the last of Africa’s “Big Men” — rulers holding power through patronage, the loyalty of their ethnic and regional groups, and military force.

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