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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Togo President Gnassingbe Eyadema Dies

LOME, Togo - The president of Togo, Africa's longest-ruling leader, died Saturday as he was being rushed to Europe for treatment of a heart attack, officials said. His son was named the new leader.

President Gnassingbe Eyadema, 69, suffered a heart attack early Saturday in his hometown of Piya in southeastern Togo and later died, said Barry Moussa Barkue, special adviser to the president.

Hours later, Togo's military high command announced on state television that Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, is the West African nation's new president.

According to Togo's constitution, the speaker of parliament, Fanbare Tchaba, succeeds the president in the event of his death. It was not immediately clear why that did not happen Saturday.

The station later broadcast images of army chief of staff Gen. Zakari Nandja and other generals swearing an oath of allegiance to Faure Gnassingbe as "the acting president."

Speaking on state radio, Prime Minister Koffi Sama called upon the security forces to keep law and order. He also announced all land and air borders to the tiny West African country had been closed.

"All the country's political, social, religious leaders must avoid any act likely to plunge the country into anarchy and confusion," Sama said.

Eyadema has ruled Togo since 1967, when he came to power following Africa's first postcolonial coup. Only Cuba's Fidel Castro has been in power longer.

Though last re-elected in a May 2003 vote, Eyadema was considered one of Africa's last "Big Men" - rulers holding power through patronage, the loyalty of their ethnic and regional groups, and military force.

He was believed to have heart problems, but the state of his health was not made public. Two weeks ago, he traveled to Switzerland for what authorities said was a medical checkup.

State radio played mourning music, interrupted by Sama's comments.

Barkue said the death was unexpected. He said Eyadema looked "hearty and even granted audience to visitors" on Friday. "So his sudden death is unbelievable."

Source: Associated Press/AP Online

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