UN urges Togo's Government to respect democratic norms in Sunday's poll

Violent clashes between the various parties in Togo, reports of restrictions on independent media and numerous allegations of irregularities in organizing Sunday's presidential elections are raising deep concern, United Nations experts have warned.

In the latest of a series of expressions of UN concern over the past two months, the Special Rapporteurs of the Commission on Human Rights on freedom of opinion and expression and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ambeyi Ligabo and Philip Alston, called for measures to ensure a free vote in the small West African nation.

"The Special Rapporteurs invite the Government to take all the necessary measures to ensure the holding of free, transparent and credible elections within the framework of a democratic State," they said in a statement yesterday in Geneva.

"The Special Rapporteurs urge all the parties in the election to take all the necessary measures to avoid a further deterioration of the situation during, or in the wake of, the election."

They cited reports indicating that independent media have been prevented from covering the electoral campaign as well as numerous allegations of irregularities in the organization of the poll and violent clashes during demonstrations organized by sympathizers of various parties resulting in casualties and reports of arrests.

Two days ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urgently called on all sides to avoid any action or statement that could lead to violence.

Mr. Annan has been closely following the situation ever since the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema in February, when Mr. Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, was appointed Head of State even though the constitution called for the President of the National Assembly to become acting president until fresh elections.

The constitution was amended, but Mr. Gnassingbe stepped down after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions and is now standing as the candidate of the ruling party in Sunday's poll.