April 21, 2009 / 5:08 PM / 10 years ago

Togo army backs president after foiled coup plot

* Army confirms loyalty to president

* Legal process will deal with arrested officers



By John Zodzi

LOME, April 21 (Reuters) - Togo’s army has reaffirmed its loyalty to President Faure Gnassingbe after his brother, a former defence minister, was arrested over a foiled coup plot last week, state radio reported on Tuesday.

Togolese security forces arrested Kpatcha Gnassingbe last week on suspicion of plotting to seize power while the president of the major phosphate producer was travelling to China.

Kpatcha and Faure were both seen as potential successors to their father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, when he died in 2005 after ruling the West African country with an iron fist for decades.

It was the younger, Western-educated Faure who came to the fore but his fierce rivalry with Kpatcha, who has strong links with the military, had long threatened to resurface ahead of presidential elections in 2010.

State radio said Togo’s armed forces had reaffirmed their "complete loyalty and absolute faithfulness" to the president in a declaration on Monday.

The police are holding Kpatcha, who is also a member of parliament, and have detained nine soldiers, including five army officers, over the suspected coup plot.

"Unfortunately, if nine soldiers including five officers are involved, it is because of serious individual deficiencies that will be dealt with by state legal procedures," General Zakari Nandja, chief of the armed forces, was reported as saying by state radio.

Kpatcha was arrested after trying to seek refuge in the U.S. embassy in Lome. He has since been charged with "attacking state security, incitement of criminal activity, rebellion, violent acts with firearms, and complicity in violent acts".

Security forces displayed firearms, communications equipment and vehicles last week that they said they had found in Kpatcha’s Lome residence during a raid.

"The trial will take place, and Kpatcha Gnassingbe could risk life imprisonment in the absence of the death penalty, which the government recently abolished," the radio also quoted public prosecutor Robert Bakai as saying.

Faure Gnassingbe has governed the West African country since his election in a violent and flawed vote in 2005 following the death of his father, who had ruled since 1967.

Togo occupies a sliver of land on the West African coast between Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Benin. The former French colony is the world’s fourth-largest phosphates producer.

Elsewhere in the region, Mauritania and Guinea saw military coups last year, and Guinea-Bissau faces elections in June to replace its president, who was killed by soldiers in March in revenge for a bombing that killed the army chief. (Writing by Joseph Penney; Editing by David Lewis and Mark Trevelyan)




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