, LOME, Aug 21 – Togolese authorities fired tear gas Tuesday to disperse a protest by several thousand people in the capital Lome, the latest such move in the volatile build-up to parliamentary elections expected in October.
The protesters had gathered in Lome’s Be neighbourhood and were planning to march to the major commercial area of Deckon, where about 100 police officers had been deployed after the government declared the zone off-limits to demonstrators.
Tuesday is the first of three days of demonstrations planned by Let’s Save Togo, a coalition of opposition and civil society groups.
Last week, Togo’s government banned street demonstrations in commercial centres, setting up a showdown with the coalition, which had already announced the protests and determined to follow through.
Some of the opposition are seeking a delay in the elections to allow reforms to take place beforehand. Some also want the repeal of changes to the electoral code passed by parliament, on the grounds that they were not made properly.
There were indications the route for Tuesday’s march would be changed at the last minute, having it pass through Deckon instead of finishing there for a rally, but authorities and protesters could not agree on the itinerary.
Tear gas was fired some 10 minutes after the start of the protest. Demonstrators scattered afterward, and it was unclear whether they would regroup.
“No one will stop us from going to Deckon,” Dodji Amou, a taxi driver who was among the protesters, said before the march began. “The country belongs to all of us.”
Another protester, Edem Akou, said before the march that “we will no longer allow ourselves to be trampled on.
“The march will absolutely go ahead,” Akou said.
Several previous demonstrations have also been dispersed with tear gas.
The government has justified the decision to make commercial centres off-limits by citing the difficulty of maintaining security and public order in such areas, but the opposition have denounced the move as a bid to stifle critics.
While the elections are expected to be held in October in the West African nation, no date has been set.
Togo has been run by the same family for more than four decades. Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the country for 38 years with an iron fist until his death in 2005.
Faure Gnassingbe was installed in the presidency by the army in 2005 shortly after the announcement of his father’s death. He has since won elections in 2005 and 2010.