Togo opposition figure charged over fires

2013-03-13 19:34
The Union of Forces for Change leader Jean Pierre Fabre at his home in Lome, Togo. (Emile Kouton, AFP)

The Union of Forces for Change leader Jean Pierre Fabre at his home in Lome, Togo. (Emile Kouton, AFP)

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Lome - Togolese authorities have charged a prominent political opponent of President Faure Gnassingbe over two recent market fires in the West African nation, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Jean-Pierre Fabre and another opposition official, Abass Kaboua, were "charged with complicity in destruction of public goods and conspiracy" over the January market fires, Fabre's lawyer Dodji Apevon told AFP.

Public prosecutor Essolissam Poyodi confirmed Fabre had been charged on Tuesday night. Both men pleaded not guilty and have been released from custody, Apevon said.

The charges come ahead of expected parliamentary elections, though a date has not yet been set.

Fabre, who finished second in 2010 presidential elections, is among a list of opposition figures named in connection with the market fire probe.

Fabre declared his innocence to AFP on Wednesday and alleged the probe was aimed at "eliminating opponents from the political landscape."

"I am in no way at all involved in those fires," he said, adding he has been ordered not to leave the capital Lome without the judge's authorisation.

He is also prevented from publicly discussing the case, he said.

The two market fires in January did not cause any injuries but led to signficant property damage.

‘Let’s save Togo’

A small crowd of opposition supporters who gathered outside the building where the two men were being questioned on Tuesday night were dispersed with tear gas, police sources said.

Judicial sources say at least 31 people, most of them members of the opposition, have been charged over the fires.

The opposition has previously called the probe politically motivated in a country run by the same family for more than four decades.

Togo was due to hold parliamentary elections before the end of this month, but the polls have been delayed and a new date has not yet been announced.

Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled Togo for 38 years with an iron fist until his death in 2005.

The military installed his son Faure Gnassingbe after his death and he went on to win elections in 2005 and 2010, though the opposition disputes these victories.

The opposition and civil society coalition ‘Let's Save Togo’ has held a string of protests in recent months seeking sweeping electoral reform and demanding Gnassingbe's departure.

A number of those protests have been dispersed with tear gas.

Frustration over the economy has fuelled discontent, with declines in cotton production and a stagnant phosphate industry adding to the daily struggles of the nation's roughly six million people.

Gnassingbe's supporters have urged patience and insist he is working to carry out reforms at a steady pace in a country where the military wields major influence.

Observers have noted that the 2010 presidential elections were a significant improvement over the 2005 polls, which were marred by deadly violence.

Legislative elections were originally due in October, but they were postponed amid disagreements over electoral reforms.

Read more on:    faure gnassingbe  |  jean-pierre fabre  |  togo  |  west africa

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