Togo opposition calls for new protests

Abdou Razak (C) of Togo demonstrates with others against President Faure Gnassingbé in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza outside the UN in New York on September 19, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

Opposition groups in the West African state of Togo on Saturday called for fresh protests this week to maintain pressure in their campaign to unseat President Faure Gnassingbe.

In power since the death of his father in 2005, Gnassingbe is the scion of Africa's oldest political dynasty, which has ruled Togo for more than half a century.

In a statement, a coalition of 14 opposition parties urged supporters to turn out "in even greater numbers" on Wednesday and Thursday in rallies in Lome, in towns outside the capital and among the Togolese diaspora.

Wednesday's protest is described as a "final warning" to the regime, and Thursday's as a "march of anger."

The opposition has mustered tens of thousands of people to demand Gnassingbe leave office — a turnout that has surprised many commentators. Rallies on September 6 and 7 alone drew more than 100,000.

At least four people were killed and dozens were injured in a crackdown on protests in the north of the country, a region previously seen as reliably pro-government.
Responding to the pressure, the government has put forward a bill that proposes presidents can only serve a maximum of two five-year terms.

But Gnassingbe is on his third term. The opposition want the two-term restriction to be applied retroactively.

Gnassingbe was re-elected in 2010 and again in 2015, in votes that the opposition denounced as unfair. If the two-term limit applies from the next elections, scheduled in 2020, he could theoretically remain in office until 2030.

According to a source close to the presidency, the proposed change to the constitution will be put to a referendum "by the end of the year."

The president's father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruled the country with an iron fist from 1967 until his death in 2005.

Transparency International ranked Togo 116th out of 176 countries in its annual corruption Perceptions Index last year.
Togo was 166th out of 188 countries in the UN Development Programme's human development report, which looks at areas such as levels of income, health and education.

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