Bloody day in Togo for journos, strikers

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Lomé and its suburbs were the scene of bloody repression by Togolese security forces this week, in response to widespread protests over rising fuel charges. Late Monday night, taxi and motorcycle-taxi drivers called a strike to protest a 14% jump in fuel prices the government authorized on June 19.

By Tuesday morning, hundreds of protesters had massed in the main streets of Lomé, blocking traffic with bricks, tree limbs, tires and metal scraps.

Passersby encouraged the protesters. Women, especially, shouted out their anger at a system that “oppresses and exploits them continuously”.

“We are happy because of this drivers’ protest, and I support them,” one woman said.

“We are in the holidays, and I expect my two daughters to go and help me sell my wares in the Great Market of Lomé. But this increase of the price of fuel has raised the cost of transport. I can’t afford this. The government is not doing anything to help us in this country, and so they should not complicate our lives any more,” the protester continued.

Despite their wrath, the protesters contented themselves with shouting and ensuring that the barricades were not removed, forcing passersby to find other ways to reach their destinations.

“The reason we are protesting is that this rise in the price of fuel is extreme, and we were not prepared for this to know how to handle it. See how difficult and costly life has become now in Togo? We cannot accept this!” shouted an unidentified protester.

This tense atmosphere exploded into riots once soldiers arrived to quell the protests in Bè, the most populous and activist district of Lomé.

This reporter witnessed soldiers using tear gas and chasing the protesters into shops and houses. It was reported that soldiers drew their guns once they were out of gas and protesters “charged” at them throwing stones.

Three deaths were reported and many were wounded. Frequence 1 (a local news outlet) reported that a man running to escape the soldiers jumped into the Laguna of Lomé and drowned.

I and a journalist from Fréquence 1 were also victims of this violence. The Fréquence 1 reporter was seriously wounded in the confrontation.

I was standing near a shop taking pictures when five soldiers approached me shouting, “Break his camera.” "Knock him down so he will never report again!” The soldiers destroyed a camera I had not even fully paid for by smashing it on the shop’s wall.

This is the first time, since 1993 that a drivers’ strike resulted in casualties.

This is also the first “undertaking” of the new government in the wake of still-contested presidential election that earned Faure Gnassingbé a second mandate as head of state.

Protesters returned to the streets despite the fact that hundreds of soldiers patrolled the main “hot” zones.

“We want the government to decrease the price of unleaded gas. We expect them to take a decision today. If not, tomorrow we will be on the street again,” declared a protester.