A child was killed and at least 25 people were injured on Thursday in Togo as thousands held rival demonstrations over the continued rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty.
Rival demonstrations in Lome drew thousands a day after the opposition boycotted a vote on constitutional reform which would have included a presidential term limit, arguing that it was a ploy to let Gnassingbe remain in power till 2030.
The opposition wanted the limit to apply retroactively so that Mr Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020. His father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled from 1967 till his death in 2005.
“A child of about 10 was killed and 25 people were injured, including 10 by gunshot” during an opposition march in Mango in the far north, a source close to the presidency told AFP.
The source said the injuries were caused by hunting rifles and other guns, but added that security forces owned neither weapon. “Two gunmen suspected of belonging to the Panafrican National Party (PNP)” of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam “are actively being sought,” the source said.
A Togolese human rights group close to the opposition said a child was killed and another person was injured in Mango after security forces fired on demonstrators.
“There have been several arrests,” an official from the Human Rights Observers group told AFP.
The ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) party had asked supporters to march in Lome at the same time as the opposition protests.
“People think we will get tired, but they are wrong,” veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre told thousands of supporters in Lome.
“We will fight till the end,” Mr Fabre said, calling for fresh demonstrations on September 26, 27 and 28.
The opposition had held giant rallies on September 6 and 7 seeking the president’s ouster that drew more than 100,000 people on the streets — a record in a country that has been widely criticised for stifling democracy.
HEAVY MACHINE GUNS
The protesters held up posters declaring “Faure must go” and “Free my country, 50 years is enough”.
Police and soldiers armed with heavy machine guns flanked the streets in pick-up trucks. Mobile phone networks and 3G services appeared to have been severed.
“We are not jihadists, we are not rebels,” said Abdallah, 42, a PNP supporter.
“We just want democracy, we are tired.” Communications Minister Guy Lorenzo condemned what he called a “coup d’etat” on the streets.
The government meanwhile asked the opposition to show “responsibility and restraint” and warned that “people of foreign nationalities were looking to participate in acts of violence” during the marches.
More protests are planned on Thursday against what Fabre called “the monstrous machine that has been crushing Togo’s people for more than 50 years”.
He said there would be “no let-up” as long as Gnassingbe remains in power.