A child was killed and at least 25 people were injured on Wednesday in Togo as thousands held rival protests over the continued rule of President Faure Gnassingbé — the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty.
The demonstrations occured after the opposition boycotted a vote on constitutional reform, which would have included a presidential term limit, arguing that it was a ploy to let Gnassingbé remain in power until 2030.
The opposition wanted the limit to apply retroactively so that Gnassingbé, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020. His father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, ruled from 1967 until his death in 2005.
“A child of about 10 was killed and 25 people were injured, including 10 by gunshot,” during an opposition march in Mango in the far north, a source close to the presidency told AFP.
The source said the injuries were caused by hunting rifles and other guns, but added that security forces did not use such weapons.
“Two gunmen suspected of belonging to the Panafrican National Party [PNP]” of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam “are actively being sought”, said the source.
A Togolese human rights group close to the opposition said a child had been killed and another person injured in Mango after security forces fired on demonstrators.
“There have been several arrests,” an official from the Human Rights Observers group told AFP.
The ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UNIR), had asked supporters to march in Lomé at the same time as the opposition protests.
“People think we will get tired, but they are wrong,” veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre told supporters in Lomé.
“We will fight until the end,” Fabre said, calling for fresh demonstrations on September 26, 27 and 28.
The opposition had held giant rallies on September 6 and 7 to seek the president’s departure and had drawn more than 100 000 people — a record in a country that has been widely criticised for stifling democracy.
The protesters held up posters declaring: “Faure must go” and “Free my country, 50 years is enough.”
Police and soldiers armed with heavy machine guns flanked the streets in trucks. Mobile phone networks and 3G services appeared to have been severed.
“We are not jihadists; we are not rebels,” said Abdallah (42), a PNP supporter. “We just want democracy; we are tired.”
Communications Minister Guy Lorenzo condemned what he called a “coup d’etat” on the streets.
The government, meanwhile, asked the opposition to show “responsibility and restraint” and warned that “people of foreign nationalities were looking to participate in acts of violence” during the marches.
More protests were planned against what Fabre called “the monstrous machine that has been crushing Togo’s people for more than 50 years”.
He said there would be “no let-up” as long as Gnassingbé remained in power.
Comi Toulabor, head of research at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, France, called the counter-rallies by the UNIR “a strategy to disrupt the opposition protest”.
“It’s very amateurish but it shows the party isn’t ready to give way,” he told AFP, calling the situation “explosive”.
About 1 000 ruling party supporters gathered on the beach in Lomé on Wednesday.
One young protester said he received 5 000 CFA francs ($9) to join the pro-government rally.
“You think we’re here for politics?” asked Justin (17), as his friends nodded approval.
The failure to pass the constitutional reform Bill in Parliament forced a referendum, which a member of the government said would be held in the coming months.
Gnassingbé has now won three elections, but the results have been contested by the opposition.
Half of Togo’s population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations, despite a gross domestic product growth rate of 5% over the past three years. — AFP