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Togolese Police Smash Opposition Demonstration - 2001-08-18

Paramilitary police have taken up positions in Togo's capital, Lome, after opponents of longtime ruler Gnassingbe Eyadema tried to demonstrate to protest the jailing of an opposition leader.

The demonstrators gathered Saturday to protest the sentencing earlier this month of Yawovi Agboyibo. His party, the Renewal Action Committee, is considered a leading opponent to President Eyadema, the man who has ruled Togo for more than three decades.

Paramilitary police fired tear gas on the demonstrators, who later tried to set up roadblocks with burning tires. Police reinforcements showed up, put out the fires, and again dispersed the demonstrators.

It was the second time in a week that Togolese police have smashed an opposition demonstration. Mr. Agboyibo's supporters had tried to stage a protest on August 11. On Thursday, the country's interior minister banned Agboyibo supporters from demonstrating.

Speaking from Lome, the demonstration's organizer, lawyer Gahun Hegbor, tells VOA the group believes it had a right to air its views. "We tried to hold our demonstration because we believe this ban is illegal," he says. "The government does not want people to hear the truth. That is it. Our demonstration was going to be held to explain to people what the Yawovi Agboyibo affair is all about. This government does not want people to know. Every day, this government shows it is not all ready to accept democracy."

Yawovi Agboyibo was jailed this year for six months after he was convicted of defaming the country's prime minister nearly three years ago. He accused the prime minister of sponsoring an armed militia that killed a number of Eyadema opponents during the 1998 presidential elections. Those elections also were marred by allegations of fraud.

In banning Agboyibo supporters from demonstrating, the country's interior minister said protests against the court's decision would be considered unconstitutional.