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Opposition seeks to erode Gnassingbe power as voting begins in Togo

Polling stations have opened in Togo after two delays within a year. The country's 3 million voters are set to select new parliamentarians from more than 1,100 candidates.

After nearly 10-months of waiting, polling stations in the West African country of Togo finally were able to open their doors to voters on Thursday morning. Polls opened at 0700 GMT and were scheduled to close at 1600 GMT, according to the government's official website.

Elections had been scheduled for October 2012. However, calls by opposition groups for electoral reforms delayed voting until leaders reached a deal, in which the number of seats in parliament were increased and the government agreed to release several political opponents from jail.

Opposition groups hope to weaken the power of President Faure Gnassingbe, who has ruled the country since 2005 and whose party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), currently holds 50 of the National Assembly's 81 seats.

Under a new agreement, the July 25 elections are to include 10 new seats for the National Assembly, increasing the total number to 91.

The opposition must focus on gaining as many seats as possible, primarily in order to have an "impact on the presidential polls in 2015," according to the head of the Economic Community of West African States, Leopold Ouedraogo.

Frontrunners include UNIR's Patricia Dagban-Zonvide, Jean Pierre Fabre for the National Alliance for Change, and the Union of Forces for Change's most prominent politician, Andre Johnson.

The country's official website reported that more than 800 observers from Togo and international bodies would oversee voting.

Former President Eyadema Gnassingbe held power from 1967 until his death in 2005. The same year, the Togolese military installed his son, Faure. Following outcry at the coup, the young leader called elections, which he won, followed by another victory in 2010.

Authorities fear violence in light of the unrest that had followed previous elections, as well as massive public protests that had occurred in the lead-up to Thursday's legislative elections. According to Togo's official website, some 6,000 policemen have been deployed around the country as a precautionary measure.

kms/mkg/ (AP, AFP, dpa)