(02-25) 20:10 PST LOME, Togo (AP) --
President Faure Gnassingbe, facing mounting international pressure since the Togo's military installed him as leader three weeks ago, announced late Friday he was stepping down and would seek the presidency in April elections.
Gnassingbe resigned just hours after accepting his party's nomination for the presidential bid.
"I've taken the decision to step down from the office of president in the interest of Togo," he said on state radio. He said his decision would "guarantee transparency and offer an equal chance to all the other candidates."
Parliament later met in a special session and named Deputy Speaker Bonfoh Abbass to serve as interim president until an elected leader takes office.
Gnassingbe had been under growing pressure from the United States, the United Nations and West African leaders to resign since he was installed Feb. 5 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the country for 38 years and was Africa's longest-serving leader.
His earlier refusal to step down had prompted the Economic Community of West African States to impose sanctions on the government of this West Africa nation, including an arms embargo and a travel ban. The African Union announced it was joining in the sanctions and suspended the country from all AU activities.
Four protesters died in clashes with security forces during riots in the week after Gnassingbe's appointment. Togo had banned all political activity immediately after Eyadema's death, saying it wanted to preserve calm for national mourning, but lifted the ban last week — 45 days before planned.
There was no sign of stepped up security after the announcement. The streets of Lome, the capital, were quiet.
Togo's army had announced Gnassingbe's appointment hours after his father died from a heart attack. Eyadema was the world's longest-ruling leader after Cuba's Fidel Castro, using troops and repressive rule to resist the wave of democracy that rolled across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s.
The appointment of Gnassingbe, and subsequent retroactive amendment of the constitution to make the move technically legal, sparked widespread outrage and deadly clashes between protesters and security forces.
Just a week ago, Gnassingbe bowed to the pressure and announced presidential elections would be held. He also lifted a two-week-old ban on political activity, allowing demonstrations and other events if plans are submitted first to the government.
Togo, a former French colony which gained independence in 1960, has an annual per capita income of $270 from an economy based on cocoa, coffee production and mining. The country is slightly smaller than West Virginia and sits between Ghana and Benin on the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa.
The resignation announcement came after conflicting signals about Gnassingbe's intentions.
A diplomat at African Union headquarters in Ethiopia told The Associated Press that the Togo leader would announce his resignation at the party caucus, and a Libyan official who was present at a meeting late Thursday between Gnassingbe and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi said the Togo leader told Gadhafi that he would step down after returning to Togo.
But when he accepted his party's nomination, he made no mention of resigning in advance of the mid-April vote.
"I accept with all humility and modesty the honor done me by the ruling party to become its leader and presidential candidate," the 39-year old had told cheering Togo Peoples Rally faithful.
"We've got to mobilize and organize so that we don't let power slip out of our hands," he said.
West Africa has been slowly emerging from years of turmoil now that bloody conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have quieted down. But new unrest in Ivory Coast and Togo has raised concern that the region will return to chaos yet again.
At the United Nations Friday, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, speaking during an open Security Council debate on West African problems, criticized the council for staying quiet on the situation in Togo.
"ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the African Union have had the courage to take a stand on Togo," Jones Parry said. "The Secretary-General has done so on several occasions. Yet the Council has been silent. We have said nothing on Togo. The question the council must ask itself ... is, when does the situation, the developments in a country, actually justify the involvement of the council?"