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I don’t feel like a dictator, says Togo’s longtime leader

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Togolese President and presidential candidate of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party Faure Gnassingbe addresses soldiers during a visit to a military facility at Namoundjoga village in northern Togo, on February 17, 2020. – Togolese President Gnassingbe of the ruling Union for the Republic party has began a tour of military facilities to get acquainted with preparedness of the military in the face of the insurgency across the Sahel region and to further drum up support from the constituency ahead of his bid for re-election on February 22, despite widespread protests by the opposition calling for the end of his family’s decades-long grip on power. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe on Thursday insisted he was not a “dictator”, days before an election in which he is aiming to extend his family’s decades-long domination over the West African nation.

The incumbent looks set to claim a fourth term in power, as the country of 8 million goes to the polls on Saturday after the constitution was changed to allow Gnassingbe to run again.

Critics say the vote will not be fair as the opposition has faced a crackdown to snuff out a wave of protests.

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However, Gnassingbe told AFP in a joint interview with Le Monde newspaper that such accusations were “more due to reputation than reality”.

“Sometimes these statements and opinions are exaggerated — in any case, I don’t feel like a dictator,” he said.

The president took over in 2005 after the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years after seizing power in a coup.

“I can’t change my name,” the current leader said.

“I don’t think that my being his son should be a reason for exclusion.”

Gnassingbe said he was “calm and confident” of securing a knockout victory in the first round of the polls.

The opposition has failed to stick together since rocking the country’s ruling clan with huge protests in 2017 and 2018.

Parliament approved constitutional changes last May that allowed Gnassingbe to stand in this week’s vote and run for a fifth five-year term in 2025.

The president said he was focused on winning Saturday’s vote and not yet looking ahead to the next election.

“I can not tell you if I will stand in 2025, so I don’t know what will happen in 2030,” he said.

“What I can say is that I will always respect my country’s constitution.”

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