Teargas used on Togo protesters


Togo security forces fired tear gas at anti-government protesters on a late night sit-in at an intersection in central Lome as part of a bid to end the 50-year-old Gnassingbe family dynasty, witnesses said.

The move to disperse the crowds comes after two days of country-wide protests involving tens of thousands of people that are the biggest challenge to Faure Gnassingbe’s rule since he succeeded his late father 12 years ago.

In the past, security forces have violently suppressed protests, killing at least two people during an opposition march in August and hundreds after the contested election in which Gnassingbe took power in 2005.

Until late on Thursday, police officers with batons had watched passively as protesters wearing red, pink and orange T-shirts of the opposition, danced and blew whistles as they wound through the streets of the capital Lome.

It was not immediately clear how the opposition would respond to the security forces’ intervention with tear gas. The head of the main ANC opposition party, Jean-Pierre Fabre, earlier pledged to remain seated on the tarmac of the Dekon crossroads until Gnassingbe left power.
“We want the end of this 50-year-old Gnassingbe regime. Enough is enough,” Kodjo Amana, a 42-year-old baker, shouted over a chanting crowd earlier in the day.

The protests in the West African country of eight million proceeded despite widespread reports of network outages confirmed by non-governmental organisation Internet Without Borders. Other African incumbents in Gabon and Cameroon have used network cuts to control criticism and suppress protests at sensitive times.

Residents said text messages were blocked on Thursday. The communications minister could not be reached for comment, although another minister said earlier the cuts had been carried out for security reasons.

The president’s father Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power in a coup in 1967, a few years after the territory known as “French Togoland,” once in German hands, became independent from colonial power France.

The current president this week sought to appease opponents by tabling a draft bill to reform the constitution and reintroduce a two-term limit his father scrapped in 2002.

Opposition leaders are sceptical about the implementation of the reforms government has stalled on for more than a decade and Prime Minister Komi Selom Klassou confirmed term limits would not apply retroactively.

That could mean that Gnassingbe (51) and currently in his third term, could remain in power for two more mandates from the next election, until 2030.

Gnassingbe sent a Tweet from his official account on Thursday, saying he met with the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, on the subject of reforms. A spokesman for the latter confirmed the meeting without elaborating.

State TV said Thursday parliament, which still needs to approve the bill, will meet in an emergency session on September 12.

If protests resume, analysts say Gnassingbe may find himself isolated amid growing criticism of autocratic rule in West Africa.
“The president’s position is fragile and we do not think his peers in ECOWAS or his friends in Europe will help him if things get ugly,” said head of research at NKC African Economics, Francois Conradie.

African rulers, notably in Rwanda, Burundi and Burkina Faso, moved to drop term limits in recent years to remain in power. In some cases this has sparked strong opposition leading to violent unrest; in others, leaders were driven from power, as happened in Burkina Faso.