- After a general strike earlier this week, the first large-scale opposition demonstration against Saturday's coup has been organised in Togo's capital, Lomé. The protesters were met with tear gas. Meanwhile, Togolese media are defying government censorship and are increasingly being closed down by police.
Harry Olympio, a former Togolese government Minister, organised today's massive protests in Lomé. Several hundred demonstrators shouted their disapproval of the military coup that brought Faure Gnassingbé to power in Togo on Saturday, only hours after his father had died and left the presidency empty.
The demonstrators were immediately met with substantial armed police forces that used tear gas and batons to disperse the group. Anti-government marches were not tolerated in Togo during late President Gnassingbé Eyadema's harsh regime. After the coup, however, conditions in Lomé have got even harsher.
According to the de facto government of Togo, any kind of protest marches were prohibited on Monday for a duration of two months to observe a "national mourning" following the death of President Eyadema. The new rulers during this week repeatedly have warned "potential troublemakers" against demonstrating, saying that they would be met by an "energetic reaction" by the police force.
Until today, these threats had mostly had their effect. During this week, only minor protest marches at the University of Lomé had been registered on a daily basis since Monday. After military and police troops started taking control of the campus area, however, student today embarked on a strike to protest the coup.
A two-day general strike called for by the opposition and the trade unions on Wednesday and Thursday was observed by substantial parts of the population in Lomé's traditional opposition strongholds, but had little effect outside these townships. The main market and many other businesses in Lomé were however shut down due to the strike.
As the demands for new elections have been issued from institutions such as the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Togolese opposition has been strengthened in its struggle. The AU and ECOWAS this week have threatened with sanctions should the current rulers in Togo not immediately return to constitutional order.
The news of the surprisingly strong reactions from abroad has been spread by the growing number of independent and semi-independent media in the country. Even some government-controlled media recently have learned a higher degree of openness and report softly on the foreign protests, some even referring to the term "coup d'état", used by current AU President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The new rulers in Lomé today reacted fiercely to the openness of some Togolese media. In a swift action, authorities closed down several media reporting negatively on the new rulers. Police today shuttered 'Radio Lumičre' in Aného, about 50 kilometres east of Lomé, accusing the station of inciting violence after it aired critical debates.
Four private radio stations that have been broadcasting critical debates and interviews on the situation, drew a number of threats from the ruling authorities. Directors and news editors of private stations were summoned today to a meeting at the media regulatory body - known by its French acronym HAAC - during which a senior official from the Communications Ministry threatened that the stations' licenses would not be renewed if the outlets did not "work properly," according to one of the station directors.
An army spokesman also at the meeting told the radio stations that they must immediately stop the critical debates. The four Lomé radio stations targeted included 'Radio Kanal FM', 'Radio Nana FM', 'Radio Nostalgie' and 'Radio Maria'. Two independent television stations in Lomé were targeted this evening, accused of being in arrears with tax payments.
As the new Togolese authorities were trying to muzzle the media, however, they only achieved further condemnation from abroad. As a direct consequence of this censorship, the planned ECOWAS mission heading to Lomé today was cancelled. The mission included the Presidents of Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Benin and Mali and was supposed to demand a return to constitutional order in Togo in a planned meeting with Mr Faure.
The five West African Presidents this afternoon issued a joint statement condemning the coup in Togo, and ordering the current Togolese rulers to send representatives to a summit in Niamey, Niger, on Saturday. If representative of Mr Faure's administration failed to turn up in Niamey, sanctions would immediately be imposed against his government.
While the external pressure on the coup-makers is set to remain high, the Togolese opposition is gaining support for its efforts to end the unconstitutional situation. Already tomorrow, a new and larger protest march is planned in Lomé. This time, a united front of opposition parties is organising the protests, defying police orders not to demonstrate.
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