Thursday, October 19, 2017

'Three Killed' in Togo Opposition Clashes
17:02 EDT, 19 October 2017

Togo's opposition on Thursday said three people were killed and dozens more injured as gangs of youths clashed with security forces trying to prevent the latest anti-government protest in the capital.

Opposition spokesman Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson told reporters "the provisional toll at 3:30 pm (1530 GMT) is three shot dead in Lome", with 44 shot and wounded, and a further 36 beaten up.

Togo's security minister, Colonel Yark Damehame, denied the claims, however, saying no-one was killed.

The streets of the coastal capital were largely deserted in anticipation of the rally, which the opposition refused to cancel despite a government ban on weekday marches on security grounds.

Demonstrators planned to march to the offices of the West African bloc ECOWAS to demand the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe -- the latest in two months of mounting protests against his regime.

Gnassingbe has been president since 2005 and is the scion of Africa's longest-ruling dynasty that has been in power in Togo since 1968.

The opposition wants the constitution changed and the introduction of a limit of two, five-year terms for presidents.

Colonel Damehame said of the opposition claims that three people were killed on Thursday: "No deaths have been brought to our attention."

At least four people were reported to have been killed in Lome and the country's second city, Sokode, during clashes between protesters, police and soldiers on Wednesday.

But Damehame said they had previously been announced on Tuesday, blaming the confusion on the health services in Sokode being overwhelmed.

"No death was recorded yesterday (Wednesday) in Sokode," he told reporters.

- Shut down -

In Lome, most shops were still shut by midday (1200 GMT) and the streets were virtually empty apart from the occasional motorbike-taxi, an AFP correspondent said.

"Activity is at a standstill after days of disruption by the marches," said one mobile phone vendor in Deckon, the city's commercial hub.

"What's happening is weighing heavily on us. The politicians need to talk to find a solution to this crisis."

Adjamagbo-Johnson said the opposition was undeterred by the crackdown. "We're determined. We will continue to protest every day," she said.

In the opposition stronghold of Be, in the southeastern part of the capital, groups of youths attempted to block the roads with barricades and burned tyres.

But the security forces, who were deployed in large numbers, sporadically fired teargas in a game of cat and mouse that lasted all day.

In other areas such as Amoutive, efforts were under way to remove barricades and the remains of burned-out cars that had been torched on Wednesday.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets on an almost weekly basis since August, increasing tensions across the country, including in the north, which has typically been supportive of the Gnassingbe family.

In all, up to 15 people, most of them teenagers, are said to have been killed in that time.

Gnassingbe currently holds the rotating presidency of ECOWAS and there has been little comment in the region and beyond about the unrest.

In Paris, the foreign ministry said it was following events in its former colony "with concern".

"We strongly condemn the recent violence that has left several people dead or injured (and) call for calm on both sides and dialogue," it said in a statement.

A source at the Togo presidency said Benin's head of state, Patrice Talon, made a low-key visit to Lome on Wednesday night to discuss the situation with Gnassingbe.

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