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Togo's Military Clashes With Protesters

  • Gabi Menezes

Witnesses in Togo's capital Lome say several people have been killed by government security forces during a strike to protest the presidency of Faure Gnassingbe, who came to power with the help of the military. Pressure is mounting on the new president, the son of the previous leader, to step down.

Traders opened their stalls and taxis were out on the streets of the central marketplace in Togo's capital, Lome, despite calls by the political opposition to hold a stay-at-home protest against the continued presidency of 39-year-old Faure Gnassingbe.

Small groups of soldiers patrolled the central market streets with rifles and sticks. But the mood was very different in opposition strongholds, where shops were shut, schools closed, and streets deserted.

An opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre told VOA there were skirmishes with military and protesters in outlying districts of the capital.

Mr. Fabre said he had reports of five people who were wounded by bullets, when police shot at young men who were erecting street barriers in the suburb of Be. Mr. Fabre also said the military shot people in several houses. He said that the opposition was generally satisfied with the so called 'dead-day' general strike.

The Education Ministry warned that teachers who did not attend class would be punished. Togo's interior minister also asked political parties not to defy a ban on demonstrations during two months of mourning for former long-ruling President Gnassingbe Eyadema.

At least three protesters were killed during protests Saturday.

Mr. Gnassingbe was hastily made president after the sudden death of his father earlier this month. Togo's constitution was amended to allow Mr. Gnassingbe to rule until 2008.

Meanwhile, Togolese government officials, fearing possible sanctions from the West African body ECOWAS, are reported to have started meetings to decide whether to comply with a demand by the group to hold elections within 60 days.

Part of a Togolese delegation that went to Niger to meet ECOWAS officials Saturday was in Burkina Faso to continue negotiations.

The continent-wide African Union is also condemning the transfer of power as a coup. The spokeswoman for the current African Union head Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, Remi Oyo, says consultations are taking place on many levels.

"The Togolese crisis is an on-going crisis, so every day there is consultation going on. I am aware that President Olusegun Obasanjo has been consulting very widely," she said. "He did that through the weekend, and even today, Monday, he has done that considerably with not only policy-makers in Africa, but [with] key European partners who are keen on seeing that democracy returns to Togo."

Togolese authorities say the international community must understand peace and security also need to be guaranteed in Togo. The new president, Mr. Gnassingbe, said what he called the police's professionalism averted a tragedy. He deplored the demonstrations.