Lome, Togo, Sep 21 – Opposition parties in Togo readied for a second day of demonstrations on Thursday over the rule of President Faure Gnassingbe, the scion of Africa’s oldest political dynasty, amid accusations of harsh repression by the security forces.
Opposition leaders, at the start of a march in the capital Lome, condemned a crackdown by security forces of demonstrations in the far north of Togo, and accused troops and militia of infiltrating the rallies.
At least 77 people were injured in the town of Bafilo when security forces fired rubber bullets at the crowd on Wednesday, according to the opposition.
Four people who were critically wounded were sent for treatment in Sokode, the country’s second biggest city, about 50 kilometres (31 miles) to the south, it said.
In statement, the opposition added that soldiers and militiamen in civilian dress “infiltrated demonstrations” in the northern cities of Bafilo, Kara, Mango, Sokode and Dapaong.
“In Dapaong, soldiers staged punitive operations all night,” the coalition said.
“The town is burning,” opposition leader Brigitte Adjamagbo-Johnson said. “The market is at this moment burning and there is shooting”.
But a source close to the presidency blamed the violence on 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, the source said, a nine-year-old child was killed and 25 people were injured, including 10 by gunshot.
The injuries were caused by hunting rifles and other guns — types of weapons that 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.
Patuel also said on social media that the popular messaging service Whatsapp had been blocked.
The opposition has boycotted a vote 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.
His father Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled from 1967 until his death in 2005.
– Historic demonstrations –
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 has called for follow-up rallies for Wednesday and Thursday.
Thousands of people thronged Lome in rival demonstrations on Wednesday.
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.
Mobile phone networks and 3G services had been severed for more than 24 hours on Thursday morning, while wifi networks ran intermittedly.
Veteran political opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre has called for new demonstrations to be held on September 26, 27 and 28.