Togo opposition leader calls on France for help

LOME

French President Emmanuel Macron was on Friday urged to step in to help find a solution to an increasingly violent power struggle between Togo’s opposition and the government.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since late August calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, whose family has been in power for more than 50 years.

PROTESTS

They want the Constitution changed so that presidents can only serve two five-year terms of office. Gnassingbe has been in power since 2005 and has won three elections.

But the protests have turned bloody, with more than a dozen deaths recorded in the capital Lome and the second city of Sokode, in the north.

In the last two days, the opposition coalition has said seven people have been killed in clashes between gangs of youths and the security forces, with dozens more injured.

The leader of the Panafrican National Party (PNP), Tikpi Atchadam, told Radio France Internationale that West African leaders were doing nothing to help.

INTERVENE

“We believe that President Macron will intervene. We are waiting,” he said in an interview.

Atchadam, who has spearheaded the protests, said Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, who is currently the head of the African Union, “tried to meet us.”

“He even sent his plane to get us and it was the day before our departure that the arrests [of opposition supporters] started,” he added.

On Wednesday, Benin’s President Patrice Talon made a low-key visit to Lome for the second time in a week to talk to Gnassingbe, according to Togolese presidency sources.

France’s foreign ministry on Thursday issued a short statement, saying only that 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 added.

LOW PRIORITY

But Gilles Yabi, a political analyst specialising in West Africa, said intervention looked unlikely.

“I’m not sure that the Togo issue is really a priority for France,” he told AFP.

“Until recently the French government was very close to the Gnassingbe regime for years.

“The current public support is very strong, so it’s difficult to imagine that Paris will take a stronger and more direct position.”

Gnassingbe currently holds the rotating presidency of the West African bloc ECOWAS, which makes any regional initiative against him “a bit complicated”, said Yabi.

IRON FIST

“There are a lot of talks but what message are his African counterparts sending him? Can they really ask him to step down at the end of his current term of office?” he added.

Gnassingbe took over power in 2005 after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years.

His election victories in 2005, 2010 and 2015 were contested by the opposition.

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