Four people were killed in Togo on Wednesday in clashes between security forces and demonstrators calling for an end to a half century of Gnassingbe family rule, the security minister said.
Opposition activists have been demonstrating since August against Gnassingbe’s administration and say a constitutional reform he has proposed would allow him to rule the West African country until 2030.
Colonel Damehame Yark, the security and civil protection minister, told a news conference that one person was shot dead and around sixty others arrested in the capital, Lome. Another three died of gunshot wounds in the second-biggest city, Sokode.
“These are too many deaths. We’d be wise to preserve the peace,” he said.
The latest bout of protests followed the arrest in Sokode on Monday of a Muslim imam accused of urging his followers to murder soldiers.
Clashes erupted after the arrest. A crowd killed two soldiers and one other person died in unspecified circumstances, the government said in a statement. About 20 other people were injured, it added.
The deaths reignited a mass protest movement against President Faure Gnassingbe, who succeeded his late father Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2005.
The protesters are calling for his resignation.
“We deplore this toll and we say that backing down is out of the question. Despite what we have suffered, we will maintain our call for protests tomorrow,” said Brigitte Adjamagbo, one of the leaders of the opposition movement.
She said the coalition was aware of two people killed, including an 11-year-old child, as well as twenty others who were seriously injured and dozens of arrests.
In a bid to curb demonstrations, the government has banned marches and mass protests on weekdays.
But young protesters in Be, a working-class neighbourhood in eastern Lome, defied the ban on Wednesday. They erected barricades with bricks and burning tyres and threw stones at security forces, who responded with volleys of tear gas.
“This is our last bastion,” shouted one demonstrator, Ayi Koffi. “We have no arms, no gas. We do not have cars to pick up people. We have come out barehanded to say, enough!”
In a statement, the International Organisation of La Francophonie, a group comprised mainly of French-speaking countries including Paris’s former colonies, said that nothing justified the violence.
“Dialogue must be prioritised in all circumstances,” it said.
The controversial constitutional reform will be decided by popular referendum after the bill failed to win approval from parliament following a boycott by opposition lawmakers last month.