Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe (left) speaks beside Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara during a news conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
WEST AFRICA – After waiting two months amid chaos, deaths, intimidations, and harassment, West African leaders have issued their first statement on the increasing bloody violence in Togo, calling on President Faure Gnassingbe and the opposition to pursue dialogue.
Togo’s former colonial master France has also called for an “immediate dialogue” between the two sides, saying it was concerned about reports of civilian militia working alongside security forces throughout the country.
Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast’s president, said he and his counterparts from Nigeria, Niger, and Ghana had met with Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.
“We believe negotiations are needed … and that these negotiations must lead to constitutional modifications already embarked upon,” he told reporters in Niamey on Tuesday at a meeting of the West African bloc ECOWAS.
Since the country’s constitutional crisis begun, at least 16 people have been killed and several more injured in anti-government demonstrations that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets.
Opposition leaders say a coalition of 14 opposition political parties want to see President Faure Gnassingbe step down and a limit of two, five-year terms introduced for future presidents.
According to reliable sources, the opposition coalition also wants a two-round election process rather than current one.
Faure Gnassingbe has been in power for the past decade and a half. He has won three elections since taking power in 2005 after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for nearly 50 years.
In Lome and the second major city of Sokode, violence escalates as police and soldiers tried to prevent opposition supporters from demonstrating.
Sources say among the 16 dead so far are two teenagers and two soldiers who were lynched by angry crowds. More than 200 others have been injured.
Under serious internal pressure, the government of Togo has proposed reforms in a referendum.
Meanwhile, the opposition is unhappy that the limit on presidential terms would not be retroactive, allowing Gnassingbe to stand in 2020 and again in 2025.
There have been minor comments coming from West African leaders about the violence, although Benin’s President Patrice Talon is believed to have met with Gnassingbe in the last week to discuss the crisis
The Ivorian leader said the heads of state rebuked all violence and said it was “important there is a climate of peace in Togo”.
“Demonstrations must be able to occur but peacefully,” he said, saying ECOWAS would respond to violence with unspecified “rigorous measures”.
French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne in Paris on Wednesday made similar comments and called on Togo’s government to “respect the right to protest”.
“Protests should be expressed in a peaceful manner,” she added.