At least four people were shot dead on Wednesday in clashes between protesters and security forces in Togo’s two largest cities after soldiers and police launched teargas to prevent the latest anti-government protest.
Opposition parties had refused to cancel plans for demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday, despite a government ban on weekday protests on security grounds.
The government said three people were shot dead in second city Sokode while one was killed and several wounded by gunfire in capital Lome.
“Security forces aren’t the only ones in possession of weapons so it’s difficult to say who fired,” security minister Colonel Yark Damehame told reporters.
Around 60 people were detained.
This week’s planned protests are the latest against President Faure Gnassingbe, who has been in power since 2005 and whose family has ruled the West African nation since 1968.
Earlier Wednesday, streets in Lome were blocked and most shops were shut in the commercial area of Deckon, according to AFP reporters in the city.
“We’ve decided to stick it out,” said one bare-chested protester who had wrapped his T-shirt around his head. “We’re not afraid of teargas. The fight must continue.”
In Be, an opposition stronghold in the southeast of Lome, the security services fired teargas to try to prevent crowds from joining the planned march to the National Assembly.
Groups of youths blocked main roads around the district with makeshift barricades of stones, burning tyres, tree trunks or burned-out cars.
“The army has locked down everywhere and there are small groups that the opposition is calling ‘militiamen’ with sticks who are warning people not to go to the march,” said Amnesty International’s country director, Aime Adi.
Eric Dupuy, spokesman for the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC) party, said assembly points for the march had been “taken over by the security forces”.
But he added: “We are going to march whatever the cost and intimidation.”
– ‘We’ve shut ourselves away’ –
In Sokode, the stronghold of the opposition Panafrican National Party (PNP), one local resident described the situation as “very tense”.
“Soldiers have been going into houses since three o’clock this morning (0200 GMT), beating young people so they don’t go to protest today,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“We have shut ourselves away in our homes… Young people are fleeing into the bush in fear of a crackdown.”
The ANC representative in Sokode, Ouro Akpo Tchagnaou said: “Uniformed men are conducting punitive expeditions in houses. They’re hitting everything that moves.
“This morning, a local chief was beaten up by soldiers as he left the mosque. In retaliation, locals set fire to the vehicle belonging to the head of the armed response team.”
On Tuesday, two teenagers and two soldiers were killed during clashes in Sokode that followed the arrest of a local imam who is close to the PNP.
The violence has spread to several other cities in the north as well as Lome.
Since the first protests on August 18, eight people have been killed, including a 10-year-old child, three teenagers and two soldiers, while there have been about 100 injured.
Amnesty International said at least 28 people out of more than 100 arrested have been convicted in connection with the protests.
Togo’s opposition has repeatedly called for a limit of two, five-year terms for the president and the resignation of Gnassingbe.
A referendum is to be held in the coming months on a government bill to change the constitution but the opposition has complained that the new measures are not retroactive.
That means President Gnassingbe, who won elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015, could still contest the next votes in 2020 and 2025, keeping him in power until 2030