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Togolese forces clash with protesters as constitution debate flares

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Togolese forces clash with protesters as constitution debate flares

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LOME (Reuters) – Security forces in Togo’s capital Lome fired teargas on Wednesday at rock-throwing protesters who were demanding an end to a half-century of Gnassingbe family rule. The clashes, seen by a Reuters witness, came two days after three people were killed in violence in the centre of the country. The killings reignited a mass protest movement against President Faure Gnassingbe, who succeeded his late father Eyadema in 2005. Opposition activists have been demonstrating since August against Gnassingbe’s rule and say a constitutional reform he has proposed will allow him to rule the West African country until 2030. Protesters want him to leave when his current term expires in 2020, at the latest. The latest bout of protests was sparked by the arrest of an imam on Monday in the central city of Sokode on charges of inciting his followers to violence after he allegedly urged them to murder soldiers. Violent clashes erupted after the arrest in Sokode, where a mob killed two soldiers and one other person died in unspecified circumstances, the government said in a statement. About 20 other people were killed in the clashes, it added. On Wednesday, young protesters in Be, a working-class neighbourhood in eastern Lome, erected barricades with bricks and burning tires 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!” It was not immediately clear if anyone was killed or injured in Wednesday’s violence. In a statement, Michaelle Jean, secretary-general of the International Organisation of La Francophonie, condemned the violence, which has resulted in several deaths and dozens of injuries since August. The group comprises mainly French-speaking countries, such as Togo, a former French colony, but also others such as Egypt and Romania. “Nothing can justify these clashes,” Jean said. “Dialogue must be prioritised in all circumstances.” The controversial reform will be decided by popular referendum after the bill failed to win approval from parliament following a boycott by opposition lawmakers last month.

(Reporting By John Zodzi; Writing by Sofia Christensen; Editing by Aaron Ross/Jeremy Gaunt)
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