Protesters in Togo showed no signs of relenting in their bid to oust President Faure Gnassingbe on Thursday, taking to the streets for a second day as the opposition outlined conditions for talks with the government.
In Lome, the rallies – which have become a common sight over the past three months – took place in a calm atmosphere although earlier protests have resulted in deadly clashes with the security forces which have claimed at least 16 lives.
Gnassingbe has ruled Togo for more than 15 years, and demonstrators want him to go – seeking an end to his family’s more than 50-year grip on power. They also want to impose a two-term limit on the presidential mandate.
Although largely silent on the wave of protests, Gnassingbe finally spoke out on November 20, saying the government was in talks about holding negotiations with the opposition which could take place “within several weeks”.
The almost-daily protests which have gripped Togo since late August have been organised by a coalition of 14 opposition parties, who have insisted they will only talk if the government releases detainees, lifts the ban on demonstrations in several northern cities and sends troops back to their barracks.
Most of the deadly clashes between protesters and the security forces have taken place in the north where there has been a heavy security presence.
“Mobilisation will continue, even during talks. We are not going to give up the fight,” the leader of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), Jean-Pierre Fabre, told AFP on Wednesday.
But many are sceptical about the prospects of talks with the government.
“We’ve done too much talking in this country and agreements have never been respected,” fumed Elie Lodinou, a salesman who was taking part in the demonstrations.
“This time, the international community must come alongside us. We need observers from the UN and the African Union present at these talks,” he insisted.
Many African and European heads of states were in Abidjan this week for a key EU-AU summit which touched on the Togo crisis.
On the sidelines of the two-day meeting, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and his Ivorian counterpart Alassane Ouattara expressed concern that the instability in Togo could have regional consequences.
“We must have a solution in Togo,” Buhari said, stressing that allies of both the opposition and the government “must talk to them (about) the steps to jointly take to achieve stability.”
“There will be regional consequences for instability in Togo and this will surely come at a cost to development,” he warned.
Speaking to France 24 television and Radio France International (RFI) on Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he hoped there would be “an electoral process (in Togo)… which allows either a democratic confirmation or transition of power.
“Keeping power for a long period of time without any electoral processes, without a framework of pluralism, is not a good thing,” he said.
Mediators such as Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Guinea’s Alpha Conde have also been working to open up talks between the two sides.