Togo opposition leader calls on France for help
French President Emmanuel Macron was on Friday urged to step in to help find a solution to an increasingly violent power struggle between Togo's opposition and the government.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since late August calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe, whose family has been in power for over 50 years.
But the protests in the former French colony have turned bloody, with more than a dozen deaths recorded in the capital Lome and the second city of Sokode, in the north.
In the last two days, the opposition coalition said seven people have been killed in clashes between gangs of youths and the security forces, with dozens more injured.
The leader of the Panafrican National Party (PNP), Tikpi Atchadam, told Radio France Internationale that west African leaders were doing nothing to help.
"We believe that President Macron will intervene. We are waiting," he said in an interview.
Atchadam, who has spearheaded the protests, said Guinea's President Alpha Conde, who is currently head of the African Union, "tried to meet us."
"He even sent his plane to get us and it was the day before our departure that the arrests (of opposition supporters) started," he added.
- 'Ghost town' -
On Friday, the city of Sokode was a "ghost town", according to several sources contacted by AFP.
"There isn't a shop open in Sokode or any council service," said one resident on condition of anonymity.
"Since yesterday (Thursday), soldiers have been firing with real bullets and conducting punitive expeditions in houses," said Ouro Akpo Tchagnaou, from the National Alliance for Change.
Tchagnaou, who represents the ANC in the area, said it was a similar situation in other towns across the north, which has traditionally been supportive of the Gnassingbe family.
Amnesty International and other observers have testified to the use of "militiamen" in Lome to conduct beatings, reviving memories of the regime of Gnassingbe's father.
General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo with an iron fist from 1967 to 2005, used similar tactics to enforce law and order.
Togo's security minister, Colonel Yark Damehame, has denied claims of beatings, accusing protesters of being responsible for the violence.
Since late August, about a dozen people have been killed, including several teenagers and two soldiers who were lynched, and nearly 200 others injured.
- Low priority -
On Wednesday, Benin's President Patrice Talon made a low-key visit to Lome for the second time in a week to talk to Gnassingbe, according to Togolese presidency sources.
The European Union delegation, the embassies of France, the United States and Germany plus the United Nations on Friday said they were following events in Togo "with concern".
"We deplore the acts of violence, provocation and intimidation of recent days and the loss of life," they said in a joint statement, calling for calm and talks between the two sides.
France's foreign ministry put out a similar statement on Thursday.
But Gilles Yabi, a political analyst specialising in West Africa, said any intervention from Paris looked unlikely.
"I'm not sure that the Togo issue is really a priority for France," he told AFP. "Until recently the French government was very close to the Gnassingbe regime for years."
Yabi added that public support for political reform is high, making it unlikely that "Paris will take a stronger and more direct position."
Gnassingbe currently holds the rotating presidency of the West African bloc ECOWAS, which makes any regional initiative against him "a bit complicated", said Yabi.
"There are a lot of talks but what message are his African counterparts sending him? Can they really ask him to step down at the end of his current term of office?" he added.
Gnassingbe has promised a referendum on constitutional reform in the coming months but the opposition has objected because a proposal to limit presidential terms is not retroactive.
That means the president, who has won three contested elections in 2005, 2010 and 2015, could stand in 2020 and 2025 and be in power until 2030.
Edoh Komi, a Christian pastor from Togo's Martin Luther King Movement (MMLK), said a referendum was "inappropriate" at the current time and "suicidal".
He urged the government to abandon the plan, adding: "It's certainly true that the referendum is legal and constitutional but it can't resolve the crisis in Togo."