Lome: Violence broke out in Togo’s second city, Sokode, after the arrest of an imam close to the country’s main opposition, fuelling tensions after weeks of antigovernment protests.
“Electricity was cut off at about 7pm (2100 GMT on Monday) after evening prayers,” said Ouro Akpo Tchagnaou, from the main opposition National Alliance for Change (ANC).
“Five police vehicles arrived to arrest Alpha Alassane, a very well-known imam in the city,” he added. “The population felt targeted and took to the streets.”
Clashes lasted throughout the night until calm was restored but the authorities have been warned of renewed protests if Alassane is not freed on Tuesday morning.
“The situation was hard to put up with last night. The security forces and youths clashed in several parts of the city, with tear gas and stone-throwing,” one local said.
“There were burning tyres, barricades erected and buildings were looted,” added ANC spokesman Eric Dupuy.
“Homes were set on fire as well as a bank and premises belonging to [telephone company] TogoCell.”
“We know there were deaths and injuries but I can’t give you a toll at this time. We are still gathering details.”
Togo’s security minister, Colonel Yark Damehame, told the local Radio Victoire that the arrest of Alassane, who is close to the Panafrican National Party (PNP), was justified.
“In his sermons he has been calling for violence and hatred ... The last straw was last Friday when he called on his followers to kill soldiers,” he said.
Alassane has long been a dissenting voice in Togo but his arrest comes at a time of heightened political tension in Togo in recent months.
He has allied himself with the PNP of Tikpi Atchadam, who has spearheaded protests against President Faure Gnassingbe that have mobilised hundreds of thousands across the country.
The PNP and 13 other opposition parties are calling for political change in Togo to end the 50-year rule of the Gnassingbe family.
They want a limit on the number of presidential mandates to two — in line with practice elsewhere in West Africa — and the introduction of a two-round voting system.
The opposition parties have vowed to defy a government ban on midweek protests by marching in the capital Lome on Wednesday and Thursday.