Several cities in Togo were tense on Wednesday following clashes between opposition supporters, soldiers and police as demonstrators prepared to hold another anti-government protest the authorities have branded illegal.
In Lome, streets were blocked and most shops were shut in the commercial area of Deckon, according to AFP reporters in the capital.
In the southeastern neighbourhood of Be, an opposition stronghold, police and soldiers sought to disperse crowds of demonstrators using teargas.
“Lome is deathly quiet,” said Aime Adi, head of Amnesty International’s Togo brand, speaking to AFP by telephone.
“The army has locked down everywhere and there are small groups that the opposition is calling ‘militiamen’ with sticks who are warning people not to go to the march.”
Togo’s opposition, which has organised regular protests since August against the regime of President Faure Gnassingbe, last week said there would be two days of demonstrations on October 18 and 19.
But the government quickly moved to ban the marches to prevent violence.
“The assembly points have been taken over by the security forces,” said Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC).
“We are going to march whatever the cost and intimidation.”
‘We’ve shut ourselves away’
In the northern city of Sokode, the stronghold of the opposition Panafrican National Party (PNP), one local resident described the situation as “very tense”.
“For three hours this morning, soldiers have been going into houses, beating young people so they don’t go to protest today,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“We have shut ourselves away in our homes… Young people are fleeing into the bush in fear of a crackdown.”
On Tuesday, two teenagers and two soldiers were killed during clashes in Sokode that followed the arrest of a local imam who is close to the PNP.
The violence has spread to several other cities in the north as well as Lome.
The opposition wants a limit of two, five-year terms for the president and the resignation of Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005.
Before that, his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, ruled the former French colony for 38 years.
A referendum is to be held in the coming months on a government bill to change the constitution but the opposition has complained that the new measures are not retroactive.
That means President Gnassingbe could contest the next election in 2020 and 2025, keeping him in power until 2030.