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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elections Close in Togo Amid Cries of Foul Play

LOME, Togo -- Amid scattered violence, Togolese voted to elect a new president they hope will bring democracy after decades of tyranny and restore order following months of turmoil caused by the death of Africa's longest-serving ruler.

Leading candidate Faure Gnassingbe, the son of late dictator Gnassingbe Eyadema, reiterated his vows to restore security, unite the divided country and install a government of national unity if elected.

His rivals in Sunday's election were Harry Olympio and opposition front-runner Bob Akitani, who went into hiding after unidentified men stormed his office, tied up three staff members at gunpoint and stole computers, according to his spokesman and lawyer, Homawoo Atsu.

After Eyadema died Feb. 5 of a heart attack, the army named Gnassingbe president in what many saw as a military coup. International pressure forced Gnassingbe to step down and promise elections amid opposition protests that descended into deadly violence. More violence shadowed the campaign and there were fears it could erupt again, whatever the outcome of the vote.

The succession chaos hit an impoverished country of 5 million battered and divided after 38 years of Eyadema's oppressive rule.

Despite morning downpours and several isolated demonstrations in Lome's opposition neighborhood, officials said voter turnout appeared higher than in past elections.

Polling stations closed on time at 6 p.m. Some 2.2 million people were registered to vote at 5,300 stations across the country. Counting was to start immediately, but election officials said it could take several days for results to be announced.

Protesters in Be, Lome's main opposition neighborhood, set a car ablaze after claiming the owner possessed a stolen ballot box. The driver escaped unharmed. Riot police and firefighters arrived to restore order and douse the burning, overturned car, though no clashes broke out. Several blocks away, opposition supporters protested in front of a polling station, claiming their names were excluded from the voter list. They claimed government loyalists were stuffing the station's ballot box with votes for Gnassingbe.

Gnassingbe campaigned on a message of unity and change, hoping to escape the negative image of his father. Yet many believe he is merely a cog in Eyadema's military-backed political machine. "I am committed to forming a government open to all members of Togo's political parties," Gnassingbe said at Sunday's news conference. "I think right now we badly need peace and security to be established in our country. More justice, more freedom, that's what I'll do. Togo is on the path of democracy."

Gnassingbe claimed he had never harbored serious political ambitions. "I just wanted to do politics for 10 years and go back into business," he said, sitting in a gold-rimmed chair in one of his family's opulent Lome homes. "My mind-set is that I won't enjoy it, but I'm sure this period won't last. After two or three years Togo will be peaceful, and then I'll enjoy it."