LOME, Togo, Feb. 6 -- Togo's parliament hastily amended the constitution Sunday to put a legal veneer on the military's appointment of Faure Gnassingbe to replace his deceased father as president, voiding the need for new elections until 2008.
Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years -- longer than any other leader except Fidel Castro of Cuba -- suffered a heart attack Saturday and reportedly died as he was being rushed to Europe for treatment. He was 69.
Faure Gnassingbe, a communications minister, was named Togo's new president by the military within hours of his father's death on Saturday.
(2003 Television Image Via Reuters)
The military, within hours of the announcement of Eyadema's death, named as president his 39-year-old son, contravening the country's constitution, which called for the speaker of parliament to succeed the head of state until elections could be held in 60 days.
The 81-member national assembly, dominated by Eyadema's ruling Togo People's Rally party, overwhelmingly approved Gnassingbe as speaker of parliament. It then passed a constitutional amendment allowing him to fulfill 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 reestablished so that power can be held by the president of the national assembly," said Adam Thiam, spokesman for the 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 citizens in the West African country of 5.5 million.
French President Jacques Chirac "made it known that the time of military coups d'etat is finished in Africa," said his defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie.
The army move and the parliament's endorsement reflected a desire by 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, Gnassingbe was a communications minister and a member of parliament for Blitta, in central Togo. He was present during Sunday's session.
Had the army not stepped in, the interim presidency would have legally gone to Fanbare Ouattara Natchaba, the speaker of parliament. He was in Europe when Eyadema died.
The streets of the capital, Lome, were largely deserted, with markets closed and most people staying indoors for fear of trouble. Traffic was sparse. No significant military presence was visible.
European Union Commissioner Louis Michel urged "strict respect of procedures under the constitution." Michel said the appointment of Eyadema's son would have "consequences" in relations with the E.U., which cut desperately needed aid to Eyadema's government in 1993 after allegations that security forces had fired on democracy activists.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of the 53-nation African Union, said the "unconstitutional transfer of power in Togo" would not be condoned.
Eyadema took power in 1967, four years after abetting one of sub-Saharan Africa's first post-colonial coups. During his rule, he survived assassination attempts, international isolation over rights abuses and uprisings.
In his last inauguration, after an internationally criticized 2003 election, witnesses said Eyadema rose from what was a reclining easy chair set on a stage to take the oath of office.