Tension in Togo over banned opposition marches

Protesters running down a street where opposition supporters had erected makeshift barricades in Lome on October 18, 2017 as soldiers and police launched teargas to prevent the latest anti-government protest. PHOTO | AFP 

Protesters erected makeshift barricades and blocked roads in Togo's two main cities on Wednesday, as soldiers and police launched teargas to prevent the latest anti-government protest.

Opposition parties had refused to cancel plans for demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday, despite a government ban on weekday protests on security grounds.

In the capital Lome, streets were blocked and most shops were shut in the commercial area of Deckon, according to AFP reporters in the city.

"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 Lome, the security services fired teargas 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.

Assembly points

"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, Aime Adi.

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

Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC) 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 the northern city of Sokode, 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 (0200 GMT), beating young people so they don't go to protest today," he said on condition of anonymity.

"We have shut ourselves away in our homes... Young people are fleeing into the bush in fear of a crackdown."

Three teenagers

The ANC representative in Sokode, Mr 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 Sokode that followed the arrest of a local imam who is close to the PNP.

The violence has spread to several other cities in the north as well as Lome.

Since the first protests on August 18, eight people have been killed, including a 10-year-old child, three teenagers and two soldiers, while there have been about 100 injured.

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

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