Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Protestors ransack Togo's capital in protest of president


Demonstrators protested against Togo's new president, lighting flaming barricades in the capital's streets and throwing rocks at riot police who fired tear gas to keep crowds from moving toward government buildings.

Hundreds of protesters marched Sunday toward central Lome's administrative offices from the opposition stronghold of Be, where burning truck tires closed roads, but security forces turned them back with tear gas when demonstrators pelted them with stones.

Unlike earlier demonstrations in the country's three-week crisis, no gunfire was heard. There was no immediate word of any casualties.

Demonstrators said the unannounced march was sparked by anger at Friday's selection of Bonfoh Abbass as interim president of Togo until nationwide elections can be held in the coming months.

Abbass, the deputy speaker of parliament, took over in a special session of congress after Faure Gnassingbe stepped down only weeks after the military installed him as president following the death of his father.

Demonstrators said that under Togo's constitution the job should have gone to the parliament's speaker -- who was sacked from his job after officials said he refused to return to the country in the early days of the crisis.

Gnassingbe resigned Friday amid strong pressure from the US, the EU, the UN and west African leaders. He had been installed Feb. 5, hours after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the country for 38 years.

Eyadema, Africa's longest-ruling leader and the second-longest worldwide after Cuba's Fidel Castro, had used troops and repressive rule to resist the wave of democracy that rolled across the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s.

The appointment of his son, and the subsequent retroactive amendment of the constitution to make the move technically legal, sparked widespread outrage and deadly clashes between protesters and security forces. Four protesters died in clashes with security forces during riots in the week after Gnassingbe's appointment.

Togo, a former French colony which gained independence in 1960, has an annual per capita income of US$270 from an economy based on cocoa, coffee production and mining.

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