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Togo Security Forces Crack Down on Protesters

  • Nico Colombant

At least two people have been killed in Togo, as security forces moved to quell a protest against the country's new leader, the son of the long ruling Gnassingbe Eyadema. The protest came as the West African regional group ECOWAS tried to convince Togolese authorities that the new president, who was installed by the military, should step down.

Opposition leaders tell VOA, at least four activists were killed during an aborted protest Saturday in Togo's capital Lome, while the interior minister, Francois Boko, says two people were killed, after police fired warning shots to disperse a large crowd surrounding their vehicle. He says two policemen were injured.

Protest organizers say several thousand people gathered in the neighborhood of Be to hold a peaceful rally, but that security forces launched tear gas, chased down protesters with sticks, shot into the crowd, blocked off streets and arrested many people.

Some of the protesters held up signs reading "Togo is not a monarchy," and "The coup will not succeed." They responded to the crackdown by burning tires, setting up barricades and hurling rocks and pieces of metal at police. Some of the protesters included children as young as 10.

The manager of a Lome radio station, which was forced to shut down, Modeste Messavuussu, says ordinary citizens are now scared to leave their homes.

"At the south of Lome, everybody is at home, because it is dangerous to be on the streets, because there are many soldiers who are running about," he said.

He says soldiers stormed his radio station early Saturday, demanding $3,999 to allow continued broadcasting. Most other private radio stations have also been taken off the air following similar demands.

One of the protest organizers and the main opposition candidate in 2003 presidential elections, Emmanuel Akitani, says the new government is doing everything it can to prevent any opposition.

He says everyone who wants to be vocal about opposing the recent transfer of power is being confronted by security forces.

The government has banned all public demonstrations during a two-month period of national mourning for the late Gnassingbe Eyadema who died last week after 38 years in power.

Saturday's unrest came as a Togolese delegation, which included several generals, began meetings in Niger with the West African grouping ECOWAS and its current head, Niger President Mamadou Tandja. An aide to Mr. Tandja said there would be no negotiations.

ECOWAS is asking that the military appointed son of Mr. Eyadema, Faure Gnassingbe, step down, and allow elections within 60 days as was required in the country's constitution, before it was changed by parliament last Sunday.

The head of the Togolese delegation, Prime Minister Kofi Sama, said Togo's government will make itself available to all who want to help Togolese through this critical time. Mr. Gnassingbe, who has been given a mandate until 2008, was not part of the delegation.

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