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In Togo Country tense after opposition call to stay home

Togo's capital was in security lockdown Friday with large numbers of police deployed and many businesses shuttered after opposition parties called for strikes.

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Political tensions rise in Togo as the government resists pressure to change the constitution to limit the power of President Faure Gnassingbe play

Political tensions rise in Togo as the government resists pressure to change the constitution to limit the power of President Faure Gnassingbe

(AFP/File)
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Togo's capital was in security lockdown Friday with large numbers of police deployed and many businesses shuttered after opposition parties called for strikes marking the weekend deaths of two anti-government protesters.

The protest, dubbed "Togo Mort" or "Dead Togo" by the opposition coalition, comes against a backdrop of soaring political tensions as the government resists pressure to change the constitution to limit the power of President Faure Gnassingbe.

Two people were killed -- one after suffering a gunshot wound -- at weekend protests against Gnassingbe's rule in Sokode, 300 kilometres (185 miles) north of Lome.

Sixty-six people were arrested following the violence, according to the justice ministry.

Opposition leaders gathered in a church in Lome for a mass in memory of those who died.

"Only a mass mobilisation will enable us to end the regime," Jean-Pierre Fabre, the president of Togo's main opposition National Alliance for Change party, told AFP.

Marketplaces in Lome were officially open, but most traders had stayed away despite a government appeal for people to resist opposition "intimidation" ahead of the strike.

The majority of civil servants appeared to have gone to work and banks remained open.

Togo's opposition parties have called for more protest marches to be held on August 30 and 31 to intensify demands for a raft of pro-democracy constitutional reforms.

The president's Unir party announced on Thursday that it would stage its own counter demonstrations on August 29, 30 and 31.

'Keep up the pressure'

The opposition coalition celebrated the apparent success of its strike action.

Marketplaces in Lome were officially open, but most traders had stayed away despite a government appeal for people to resist opposition "intimidation" ahead of the strike play

Marketplaces in Lome were officially open, but most traders had stayed away despite a government appeal for people to resist opposition "intimidation" ahead of the strike

(AFP/File)

"We're very pleased because our appeal for a day of contemplation and prayer was largely followed in Lome and in certain other towns across the country," said Eric Dupuy, a spokesman for Cap 2015, a coalition of five opposition parties.

"The Togolese people have had enough and have understood our message."

Gnassingbe, who succeeded his father Gnassingbe Eyadema who ruled Togo with an iron grip for 38 years, was elected with army support in 2005 before being reelected in 2010 and 2015 in fiercely contested polls.

"Traffic flowed freely and there was a slowdown in commercial activity on Friday linked to the campaign of terror, intimidation and threats by the organisers of this 'Dead Togo' day," government minister Gilbert Bawara said in a statement, adding that some traders had stayed away for fear of attack.

There were no disturbances or notable staff absences in the public sector, he added.

"Now is the time for political reform, especially term limits to one day allow someone else to lead the country," said Maurice Ehouili, a motorcycle taxi driver.

"This time we are determined to keep up the pressure on the authorities to make them reform. I'm ready to march every day until we secure reform."

Togo's opposition want the country's constitution, which was changed in 2002, to be updated to reintroduce presidential term limits of a maximum of 10 years.

They also want elections changed so that they feature two rounds of voting instead of just one.

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