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Political protests in Togo turn deadly

Police killed a demonstrator Monday during protests against the army’s installation of the late dictator’s son as president.
Anti-government protesters throw stones Saturday at Togolese troops in the streets of Lome. The violence turned deadly on Monday when a protester was killed.
Anti-government protesters throw stones Saturday at Togolese troops in the streets of Lome. The violence turned deadly on Monday when a protester was killed.Schalk Van Zuydam / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police shot and killed at least one demonstrator Monday as an opposition long used to repression tried to step up protests against the army’s installation of the late dictator’s son as president.

Pressure from other countries mounted on Togo’s leadership as crowds in the capital blocked roads and intimidated residents to enforce an opposition call for a general strike.

Regional heavyweight Nigeria, which has spearheaded West African demands that Togo reverse the constitutional changes that were pushed through to make Faure Gnassingbe president, said it would do whatever is needed to ensure peace in the region. It did not rule out the use of force.

Femi Fani-Kayode, a spokesman for President Olusegun Obasanjo, did not say if Nigeria or any regional group was considering sending troops in Togo, a country of 5.5 million people.

Nigeria weighs in
But he said: “Nigeria has the most disciplined, the most well-equipped and the most cohesive and effective fighting force on the African continent.” Fani-Kayode also reiterated a warning to Togo not to harm the sizable Nigerian community in the country.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, is expecting a response by the end of Tuesday to its demands that Togo roll back the constitutional changes, ECOWAS spokeswoman Adrienne Diop said from Nigeria.

She said a first stage of sanctions would include a ban on participation in ECOWAS meetings and that ECOWAS could impose trade sanctions. “Troops are always the last option,” she said.

The United States, Britain, France and the 52-nation African Union, currently headed by Obasanjo, have condemned the constitutional changes.

The killing of the protester Monday took place in the restive neighborhood of Be, an opposition stronghold, where mobs of young people blocked roads and taunted security forces. Togo’s Interior Minister Akila Esso-Boko said police shot the demonstrator as he tried to steal an officer’s gun.

Conflicting body counts
The slaying brought the official death toll to four during three days of protests. Opposition leaders said security forces killed 11 people Monday. Those claims could not be verified by The Associated Press.

In Be, the streets remained largely deserted and stores were shuttered Monday in response to an opposition strike call and tensions that have grown since President Gnassingbe Eyadema died of a heart attack Feb. 5 after 38 years in power. Central Lome was buzzing by early afternoon, however, with motorcycle taxis cruising and shoppers milling around the market.

Soldiers armed with rifles and sticks patrolled Lome’s main beach-front boulevard on foot, while trucks packed with riot police moved slowly through Be.

Earlier in the day, security forces chased and dispersed large roving mobs of young people who were out enforcing the opposition strike. The crowds, wearing shirts over their faces and blowing whistles, blocked roads with burned-out cars and intimidated residents who defied the call to stay indoors.

“Liberate Togo! Liberate Togo!” the crowds shouted as they chased cars and motorcycle taxis whose drivers braved empty streets.

“They’ve killed us for years,” said Francis Attiabwe, a 27-year-old armed with a slingshot. “They killed our mothers. They killed our grandmothers, but they will not kill us again. We must win!”

Bruises as trophies
He took off his cap to show five stitches across his scalp where he said a soldier hit him with a rifle butt Saturday. He had large bruises on his back and arms, which he proudly displayed as trophies.

Eyadema was known for dealing harshly with dissent, jailing and torturing opposition leaders. The European Union imposed sanctions on Togo in 1993 following allegations that security forces opened fire on democracy activists, killing about 20 people.

Opposition leaders say seven people were shot and killed by security forces in Saturday’s clashes, and that Monday’s strike was in part called to mourn the victims.

The government has confirmed three demonstrators died Saturday, saying police only fired in the air when protesters surrounded them and tried to take their guns.