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One killed in opposition protests, wider strike call falls on deaf ears

[Togo] Barricades burn in the opposition stronghold of Be in the capital, Lome. Togolese youths have clashed with security forces. February 2005.
Pneus incendiés dans le quartier de Bé, en février (IRIN)

Togolese soldiers shot dead one demonstrator in the opposition stronghold of Lome on Monday as tensions remained high and barricades continued to burn in protest at what opponents have called a military coup.

But outside that neighbourhood, an opposition call to the 800,000 residents of the oceanside capital to stay home and show their displeasure at the transition of power fell largely on deaf ears.

Opposition leaders said Monday's flashpoints had been concentrated in the Be area of town and security forces had injured 12 people during the day, seven of them seriously, as well as killing one person.

The government said troops had opened fire in self defence.

"There were two soldiers who were isolated and surrounded by demonstrators who were trying to seize their weapons. They fired in the air and unfortunately one Togolese was killed," Interior Minister Akila-Esso Boko told IRIN.

Tensions have been mounting in this tiny West African nation since its president of nearly four decades, Gnassingbe Eyadema, died suddenly in office just over a week ago.

The army installed his 39-year-old son, Faure Gnassingbe, as president, ignoring the order of succession as laid out in the constitution. When the international community cried foul, parliament was hastily convened to rewrite the law and retroactively legitimise the seizure of power.

Over the weekend protesters clashed with soldiers in Be. The opposition put the death toll at five, while the government said three people had been killed.

Youths were on the streets of the opposition stronghold early on Monday, setting piles of tyres alight at crossroads and blocking off side roads with logs.

"We are all at home today," Joel, a 20-something manning one of the barricades, told IRIN. "And this roadblock is here to chase the soldiers away."

Groups of young men, some carrying chunks of rock and others machetes roamed the back streets of the neighbourhood. Nearby on the main road, two trucks of riot police stood guard.

Some residents were frightened. Akuvi, a slender girl who runs a collection of telephone cabins, said she had decided to shut up shop because of the mounting tension.

As she made her way home, she was forced to take refuge in a carpenter's workshop as an angry mob hurtled down one street, banging rocks and machetes on the corrugated tin roofs that top the houses.

But while shops in Be were shuttered, the rest of the capital bustled about its business, albeit in the presence of increased patrols by soldiers, armed with batons, sticks and rifles.

Can't afford to strike

An alliance of six opposition parties had called a strike to turn Lome into a "dead city" but it met with limited success in a country where the average income is US$ 270.

Traffic on the streets and at the market may have been lighter than usual but moped taxis continued to ferry people about town and vendors continued to hawk their wares.

"My boss told me to come in today so I did. I can't risk not coming in because he could just tell me to clear off and take my job away," explained Dodge, who earns about 35,000 CFA (US$ 65) a month working at a fabric shop in Lome's main market.

"It's not like I can just walk into another one and I need to eat. The opposition are right that the constitution should be followed but striking is not an option for me."

Earning money was also the priority for 32-year-old Pascal, a streetside florist.

"For me there was no question of going on strike. There's only one Valentine's Day a year after all and I couldn't afford to miss it," he said.

[Togo] Faure Essozima Gnassingbe named as head of state by the armed forces of Togo.

Une succession à la présidence de la république togolaise qui suscite bien des polémiques au niveau national et international
[Togo] Faure Essozima Gnassingbe named as head of state by the armed forces of Togo.
Monday, February 7, 2005
Entre grève générale et menace de sanctions – la présidence controversée de Faure Gnassingbe
[Togo] Faure Essozima Gnassingbe named as head of state by the armed forces of Togo.
Faure Gnassingbe's seizure of power has caused uproar both home and upbroad, but many Togolese too scared or poor to strike

Arranging a bouquet of exotic red and orange flowers to tempt potential customers, he admitted clients were scarce this Valentine's Day.

"By this time of day last year most of the flowers had gone and we were sending people to get more supplies. Today business is very slow," he said.

But some people did heed the opposition's strike call.

"If nobody does anything we'll have another 40 years of this presidential family," said 65-year-old George. He closed his downtown bakery on Monday but turned up to keep an eye on the premises and watch out for would-be looters.

"I didn't want to take any risks. We had stones lobbed through the window last week," he said.

A staunch supporter of opposition attempts to pressure the new leader Gnassingbe to revert back to the old constitution, he said the international community must not turn its back on Togo.

"We really need strong international pressure for things to change," George said.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has demanded that Togo return to a democratic path and hold presidential elections as soon as possible or else face sanctions.

The African Union, former colonial power France, the United States and the United Nations have also called for Togo's five million people to go to the ballot box to decide the country's next leader.

Under the old constitution, fresh polls had to be held within 60 days of the president's death, but parliament has given his son licence to rule until 2008 when his father's term would have expired.

Gnassingbe sent a delegation to see ECOWAS officials in Niger at the weekend but has yet to officially respond to the body's demands.

The head of the UFC opposition party, Jean-Pierre Fabre, said a the dead protesters would be buried on Thursday and a new march would be held next Saturday despite the government's decision to slap a two-month ban on all public rallies and demonstrations.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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