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Togolese Flee Election Violence in South

  • Nico Colombant

Several thousand Togolese are fleeing the capital, Lome, and southern towns along the coast, following four days of deadly violence in the wake of controversial elections.

A woman, her three children and four bags pile onto a small motorbike heading toward Benin about 40 kilometers away.

The driver says he charges about three dollars for each border run, and that business is good, as he's made about 50 trips since Wednesday.

This young man, speaking in the southern language Ewe, is walking by foot with two other friends. He says he decided to leave Lome after a stray bullet killed his sister during clashes between militants and the army in an opposition stronghold.

He says he's not aware there were similar clashes and rioting all along the southern ocean coast since Tuesday, when electoral officials proclaimed Faure Gnassingbe, the son of long-time leader Gnassingbe Eyadema, as the new president. The opposition alleged there was massive fraud, and their candidate, Emmanuel Akitani-Bob, has also proclaimed himself president.

Authorities say the opposition and their militants are acting in complete lawlessness, and that they will be arrested, if they continue, and, for now, they are being forced to clean up the mess they made.

All along the coastal road, though, barricades manned by angry militants wielding machetes and axes remain. They do allow refugees to go.

"We allow them to go, because they want to save their life, that's why we release them to go, but with the military, there is a combat, me and them," he said.

Villages on the main highway all show signs of looting, rioting and burned tires.

The destination point for many is the town of Aneho, on the border with Benin, but here, too, there was violence, according to 18-year-old student Luc.

"They kill the woman and the boy, everybody. Today, the police no work. Many people in Aneho just go to Benin," he said.

Police headquarters have been ransacked, as has this hotel, owned by a ruling party official, where his employee, Jean-Marie, is sweeping up broken glass.

He says a group of 20 militants burned and broke everything in a matter of minutes.

In the town, angry militants say the army fired on protesters and went into homes, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens. More than 20 people have also been reported killed in Lome and dozens injured, some of them from bullet wounds, but casualty figures have been hard to confirm.

At the hospital in Aneho, doctors there say they have given orders not to allow journalists in, and abruptly clang the gate shut. The morgue is also off limits.

But borders reopened Thursday, allowing many to cross into Benin or Ghana on the western border.

On roads into Lome, Togolese ruling party officials can be seen driving in convoys under heavy military guard. President-elect Faure Gnassingbe, who is popular like his father in the north and among the army, has offered to form a national unity government.

The losing opposition team says it doesn't want to join what it calls oppressors and cheaters. The African Union and the United States are both urging the opposition to reconsider, despite evidence of cheating during Sunday's voting.

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