Thousands of protesters in Togo Thursday joined demonstrations around the country for a second day against the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty.
The atmosphere was tense amid accusations of harsh repression by security forces on Wednesday, when at least 77 people were injured by rubber bullets in the far north of the country, according to the opposition.
Four people who were critically wounded were sent for treatment in Sokode, the country’s second biggest city, it added.
At the start of Thursday’s march in the capital Lome, opposition leaders condemned the crackdown and accused troops and militia of infiltrating rallies in the northern cities of Bafilo, Kara, Mango, Sokode and Dapaong.
“We are capable of anything for a new Togo!” said protester Matawo Kossi, a hairdresser in the Agoe district of Lome on Thursday.
But a source close to the presidency blamed the violence Wednesday on the Panafrican National Party (PNP) of opposition leader Tikpi Atchadam, accusing its supporters of attacking officials of the ruling Union for the Republic (UNIR) and torching houses.
In Mango a nine-year-old child was killed and 25 people injured, including 10 by gunshot wounds from hunting rifles and other weapons the security forces did not use, the source said.
Francois Patuel of Amnesty International said that “despite official declarations in favour of appeasement, the repression of demonstrations by the armed forces continues.”
Amnesty called for “an independent and impartial inquiry” into the child’s death in Mango and use of force by security forces.
– Historic demonstrations –
The opposition has boycotted a vote in parliament on constitutional reform that would have included a presidential term limit, arguing it was a ploy to let Gnassingbe stay in power until 2030.
They want the limit to apply retroactively so that Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005, could not run again in 2020.
He succeeded his father Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled from 1967 until his death in 2005.
To press their demands, the opposition staged rallies on September 6 and 7 that drew more than 100,000 people — an unprecedented turnout in a country widely criticised for stifling democracy.
The 14-party coalition had called for the follow-up rallies on Wednesday and Thursday.
Police said 10,000 to 15,000 people marched nationwide on Wednesday, but Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC) party, said “tens of thousands of protesters” marched in the capital alone.
Veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre has called for new demonstrations to be held on three consecurive days next week, starting Tuesday.