Togo's president visits opposition stronghold after protests

Faure Gnassingbe (AFP, File)
Faure Gnassingbe (AFP, File)

Lome - Togo's president, Faure Gnassingbe, said he remains convinced of national unity after a weekend visit to the country's second city that was hit by anti-government protests.

Gnassingbe revealed on Sunday evening he had travelled to Sokode - the home city of Tikpi Atchadam, who has led three months of street demonstrations.

"My exchanges with the imams and senior figures left me reassured that our country remains indivisible," he said in a statement.

"The damage and violence suffered by this town that was until recently peaceful saddens me deeply and would leave no citizen unmoved."

Atchadam, who heads the Panafrican National Party (PNP), has been at the forefront of a wave of protests against Gnassingbe that began in late August.

Hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters have taken to the streets in the capital, Lome, and across the country, calling for the president to step down.

Gnassingbe took over as president in 2005 on the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the former French colony for 38 years.

Opposition supporters clashed with the police and security forces in Sokode in October after the arrest of an imam close to the PNP.

Four people were killed - two teenagers and two soldiers lynched by a crowd - while a number of public buildings and private homes were looted and set on fire.

The government banned further protests in Sokode and two other northern cities - Bafilo and Mango - where support for the Gnassingbe family has historically been strong.

Three new days of protests have been organised for Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The government has promised to organise a referendum on proposed reforms to the constitution, including the introduction of a two-term limit for presidents.

Opposition politicians have objected to the government's proposal, as it is not retroactive and raises the possibility that Gnassingbe can stand at the 2020 and 2025 elections.

Mediators including Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo and Guinea's Alpha Conde are working to try to establish formal talks between the two sides.

Gnassingbe said that could happen "in the next few weeks".

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