Togo braces for new nationwide protests

Picture: AFP
Picture: AFP

Lome- Togo on Thursday was bracing for another round of demonstrations in its seaside capital and other cities called by opposition groups intent on ending the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa's oldest political dynasty.

On Wednesday, thousands had thronged the streets of Lome in rival demonstrations after the opposition boycotted a vote on constitutional reform which would have included a presidential term limit, arguing it was a ploy to let Gnassingbe stay in power until 2030.

The opposition wanted the limit to apply retroactively so that Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020. His father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled from 1967 until his death in 2005.

Police said 10 000 to 15 000 people marched nationwide on Wednesday, but Eric Dupuy, spokesperson for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC) party, said "tens of thousands of protesters" marched in Lome alone.

A coalition of 14 opposition groups has urged citizens to turn out en masse in Lome and other cities in the west African country on Thursday, calling on them to keep pressure on the government after historic rallies at the beginning of the month drew more than 100 000 people.

It was a record in a country which has been widely criticised for stifling democracy.

"People think we will get tired, but they are wrong," veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre told supporters in Lome on Wednesday.

"We will fight till the end," he said, calling for new demonstrations on September 26, 27 and 28.

Mobile phone networks and 3G services had been severed for more than 24 hours on Thursday morning, while Wifi networks ran intermittedly.

There were no reports of violence in Lome, though there were in others cities where demonstrations were held.

In Mango, in the country's far north, a 9-year-old child was killed during a demonstration that had not been authorised, according to Security Minister Yark Damehame.

He accused opposition protesters of attacking officials of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) and torching houses.

"Despite official declarations in favour of appeasement, the repression of demonstrations by the armed forces continues in Togo," Francois Patuel, West Africa researcher for Amnesty International, said in a statement.

Patuel also said on social media that the popular messaging service Whatsapp had been blocked.

Amnesty called for "an independent and impartial inquiry" into the child's death in Mango and the use of excessive force by security forces.

According to a local human rights organisation, Togolese security forces fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in the northern cities of Dapaong and Bafilo, injuring four people.

In Kara, the stronghold of Gnassingbe's family, a planned demonstration was dispersed before it could even start.

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