Hundreds of thousands of citizens turned out in the Togolese capital, Lome, on Wednesday in the latest round of anti-government protest called by main opposition parties.
An opposition leader, Jean-Pierre Fabre, is quoted as describing the turnout as ‘unprecedented.’ A key activist Farida Nabourema put the estimates at a million people. The turnout comes despite two key actions by the government on Tuesday evening.
Mobile internet was blocked particularly affecting social media networks – WhatsApp and Facebook. Wi-Fi access was available till Wednesday afternoon when it was also shut down.
The government also initiated a cabinet decision to address a key section of the protesters demand, to place a limit on presidential term limits. Despite the move, politicians and activists say it is a ploy by President Faure Gnassingbe to buy time.
Photos making the rounds on social media show people trooping from other parts of the country to join the protests whiles others also held protests in major towns.
Thousands of Togolese nationals had held demonstrations in about half a dozen cities around the world including the capital Lome in August. Seven people were reportedly killed after clashes with security forces in the northern city of Sokode.
Opposition parties’ key demands include the reinstatement of the 1992 constitution that limits the term limit of the president. The constitution which stipulates a two five-year term limit for a president was set aside by a one-sided parliament for Gnassingbe to continue his third term bid in 2015.
The parliament is made up of about 98 per cent of the ruling Rally for the Togolese People (RPT) party members after a boycott of the opposition parties in the parliamentary elections.
However the motivation of the current mass protests is to press for an end to the Gnassingbe dynasty which has ruled 50 years from father to son.
The opposition has sworn to continue the protests until the end of the Gnassingbe dynasty. Faure’s mandate ends in 2020 and it is unclear if he will stand again for re-election.
President Gnassingbe has been in power since the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2005, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 38 years.