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Mass Protests Against Togo's President Turn Violent

By Bryan Mealer
Associated Press
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page A23

LOME, Togo, Feb. 12 -- Thousands of people opposing Togo's army-installed president burned tires and threw jagged pieces of metal at police Saturday during a second day of demonstrations in the capital of this West African country.

Security forces fought back with tear gas, batons and stun grenades, killing at least three protesters, as leaders from across Africa sought to stem the unrest a week after Faure Gnassingbe succeeded his father as president.

Anti-government protesters run through the streets of Lome, the capital, where violent demonstrations led to three deaths. (Schalk Van Zuydam -- AP)

Interior Minister Akila Esso-Boko confirmed the deaths, but said police fired after they were surrounded and protesters tried to rip their guns away. Two protesters died immediately, and one died later in a hospital, he said.

Appearing on state-owned television, Gnassingbe condemned the demonstration and criticized opposition leaders, telling them they should, "show more maturity."

The 52-nation African Union issued a statement from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, expressing concern over "the rapid deterioration of the situation in Togo." The statement also deplored "intimidation of journalists and the closing or jamming of independent radio stations," and implored Togo authorities to restore constitutional law.

Togo's military named Gnassingbe president immediately after his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, died of a heart attack last Saturday. However, the country's constitution states that the speaker of parliament should become interim leader and call elections for a new president within 60 days.

The parliament changed the constitution to remove references to the speaker assuming the presidency after army generals announced Gnassingbe's appointment.

West African countries are spearheading the international efforts against what many diplomats say was a coup and have summoned Togolese authorities to neighboring Niger.

The protest Saturday drew about 3,000 people, three times the number that showed up at a rally Friday, and turned violent through the day before subsiding by nightfall.

"We're not stopping until Gnassingbe is gone," said Harry Olympio, one of Togo's main opposition leaders. "We're going to fight every day, and tomorrow we start again."

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