Togo’s opposition has accused the government of deploying police and soldiers in a brutal crackdown in which two protesters were killed during a rally against upcoming elections. Security forces fired teargas and fought running battles on Saturday with demonstrators in the capital, Lome, and several other cities across the country.
Both the government and the coalition of 14 opposition parties said there were unconfirmed reports of a third fatality.
Four members of the security forces were injured and 28 protesters were detained, the government said. However, the leader of the opposition alliance, Jean-Pierre Fabre, said late Saturday the authorities had put down the protests with their “customary brutality.”
The government of President Faure Gnassingbe banned ten planned protests in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 20 December. Fabre said the ban, officially on security grounds, was a “fake pretext” as the vote was organised despite lack of progress in talks brokered by the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Togo has been hit by a wave of protests since September last year calling for the re-introduction of two-term limits for presidents and two-round voting at elections. The protests have, however, developed into calls for the resignation of Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005. His father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruled Togo for 38 years.
The opposition has said it will boycott the parliamentary elections because it objects to the current composition of the independent national electoral commission. A defiant Gnassingbe praised protesters’ “courage, engagement and determination” and said they should still try to take to the streets again between now and 20 December.
But the National Alliance for Change (ANC) leader said the opposition was baffled at the apparent indifference of the international community to calls for the vote to be delayed.
“We understand even less the silence of ECOWAS to which the ANC directly appealed…after an increase in barbaric violence against defenceless civilians,” Fabre said.