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Togo authorities clash with protesters for second day

Togolese security forces fire tear gas as they attempt to disperse thousands of angry opposition protesters and anti-government militants on the first day of a planned three-day rally, in central Lome, Togo. (AP Photo/Erick Kaglan)

LOME: Togolese security forces clashed with protesters in the capital Lome for a second straight day Wednesday, with officers firing tear gas on demonstrators who responded by throwing rocks and burning tyres.

Protest organisers claimed several dozen of their supporters were injured and arrested, adding that a third day of protests would not go ahead as planned on Thursday because the authorities had executed "a takeover by force."

Roughly 2,000 people had gathered in Lome for the second day of anti-government demonstrations organised by Let's Save Togo, a coalition of civil society and opposition groups, ahead of parliamentary elections expected in October.

Security forces fired tear gas on protesters on the first day of rallies on Tuesday and did so again not long after Wednesday's march began.

A protester named Kossi told AFP that the demonstrators were "not afraid of tear gas anymore."

"They must let us demonstrate freely, if not, we will go all the way," he warned.

But the coalition's organiser, Zeus Ajavon, said the opposition movement had no choice but to call off Thursday's rally as the authorities had proven their readiness to use brutality.

"The security forces cracked down on us. They beat us. It is a takeover by force. For us, it's finished, there is nothing left to say," Ajavon told journalists. "No demonstrations tomorrow."

He said despite changing their protest route as demanded by the authorities, opposition supporters were still met with tear gas.

As the government is unwilling to allow peaceful rallies, the population must pursue other ways to bring about change, he said, without calling for a specific course of action.

An AFP correspondent reported isolated violent exchanges between demonstrators and the security forces in Lome's Be neighbourhood earlier Wednesday, with opposition supporters throwing rocks and burning tyres. The area was however calm by nightfall.

Last week, the west African nation's government banned street demonstrations in commercial centres, setting up a showdown with the coalition, which had already announced the protests.

The government says commercial centres were made off-limits because security and public order were difficult to maintain in such areas, but the opposition have denounced the move as a bid to stifle critics.

Some of the opposition are seeking a delay in the polls to let reforms take effect first, while others also want changes to the electoral code passed by parliament to be repealed on the grounds they were not made properly.

While the elections are expected to be held in October, no date has been set.

Togo has been run by the same family for more than four decades. Gnassingbe Eyadema ruled the country for 38 years with an iron fist until his death in 2005.

Shortly after his death was announced, the military installed his son Faure Gnassingbe as president. He has since won elections in 2005 and 2010.

 

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