Casualties mount in Togo protests

At least four people were shot dead on Wednesday in clashes between protesters and security forces in Togo’s two largest cities after soldiers and police launched teargas to prevent the latest antigovernment protests.

Opposition parties refused to cancel plans for demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday, despite a government ban on weekday protests on security grounds. The government said three people were shot dead in Sokodé, and one was killed and several wounded by gunfire in the capital, Lomé.

“Security forces aren’t the only ones in possession of weapons, so it’s difficult to say who fired,” Security Minister Colonel Yark Damehame said.

About 60 people were detained.

The opposition coalition said separately there had been “two deaths, including an 11-year-old schoolboy”, as well as “at least 20 serious injuries” in Lomé alone.

This week’s planned protests are the latest against President Faure Gnassingbé, who has been in power since 2005 and whose family has ruled the West African nation since 1968.

Earlier on Wednesday, streets in Lomé were blocked and most shops were shut in the commercial area of Deckon. “We’ve decided to stick it out,” said one bare-chested protester who had wrapped his T-shirt around his head. “We’re not afraid of teargas. The fight must continue.”

In Be, an opposition stronghold in the southeast of Lomé, the security services fired teargas and rubber bullets to try to prevent crowds from joining the planned march to the National Assembly. Groups of youths blocked main roads around the district with makeshift barricades of stones, burning tyres, tree trunks or burned-out cars.

“The army has locked down everywhere and there are small groups that the opposition is calling ‘militiamen’ with sticks who are warning people not to go to the march,” said Amnesty International’s country director, Aimé Adi.

Eric Dupuy, spokesperson for the opposition National Alliance for Change party, said assembly points for the march had been “taken over by the security forces”. But he added: “We are going to march whatever the cost and intimidation.”

In Sokodé, the stronghold of the opposition Panafrican National Party (PNP), one local resident described the situation as “very tense”.

“Soldiers have been going into houses since three o’clock this morning, beating young people so they don’t go to protest today,” he said. “We have shut ourselves away in our homes … Young people are fleeing into the bush in fear of a crackdown.”

The National Alliance for Change representative in Sokodé, Ouro Akpo Tchagnaou, said: “Uniformed men are conducting punitive expeditions in houses. They’re hitting everything that moves. This morning, a local chief was beaten up by soldiers as he left the mosque. In retaliation, locals set fire to the vehicle belonging to the head of the armed response team.”

On Tuesday, two teenagers and two soldiers were killed during clashes in Sokodé that followed the arrest of a local imam who is close to the PNP. The violence has spread to several other cities as well as Lome.

Since the first protests on August 18, 12 people have been killed, most of them teenagers.

Amnesty International said at least 28 people out of more than 100 arrested have been convicted in connection with the protests.

Togo’s opposition has repeatedly called for a limit of two five-year terms for the president and for the resignation of Gnassingbé.

A referendum is to be held in the coming months on a government Bill to change the Constitution but the opposition has complained that the new measures are not retroactive. That means Gnassingbé, who won elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015, could still contest the next polls in 2020 and 2025, keeping him in power until 2030. — AFP

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