Togo voters head to the polls in long-delayed elections

A Togo soldier casts his vote in an early ballot ahead of the country's parliamentary elections Soldiers voted in an early ballot on Monday ahead of the nationwide election

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People in Togo are going to the polls in long-delayed parliamentary elections.

The vote is seen as an indication of what will happen in the presidential elections next year.

Experts say it could expose weaknesses in the grip of the Gnassingbe family. which has ruled the West African country for more than four decades.

Opposition groups have held mass protests over the government's last-minute changes to the electoral code.

They say constituency boundaries were manipulated to benefit the ruling party.

Angry demonstrations caused the parliamentary vote to be postponed from October 2012.

Fires

The polls have been rescheduled twice since then, as mediators struggled to bring government and opposition into agreement.

President Faure Gnassingbe took power in 2005 following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years. He was re-elected in 2010, though there was deadly street violence in the run-up to the poll and complaints of vote rigging.

Veteran opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio has joined Mr Gnassingbe in a government of national unity and says Togo is now in a "democratic system".

He is the son of Togo's first President, Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in 1963, four years before Mr Eyadema seized power.

Two opposition blocs, the Rainbow Coalition and the Let's Save Togo Movement, are running against President Gnassingbe's Unir (Unite) party.

A total of 1,174 candidates are standing in Thursday's elections, with 159 women among them.

Tensions in the run up to the elections have been raised by a number of mysterious fires. The opposition has accused the government of using the fires as a pretext to arrest its activists.

Togo is among the world's poorest countries. Its last parliamentary elections in 2007 were deemed by international observers to be relatively fair.

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