Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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Togo blocks internet as protests continue

Internet access restricted as thousands take to the streets for a second day against President Gnassingbe's rule.

anti-government demonstrations

Togolese authorities have blocked internet access as opponents of President Faure Gnassingbe marched for a second day against his family's 50-year rule.

Hundreds of protesters marched from the opposition stronghold of Be towards a meeting in central Lome, the capital, on Thursday, a witness said. Police later fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The scale of this week's protests, which the opposition said were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, represented the biggest challenge to Gnassingbe's rule since the aftermath of his acsension to power in 2005.

US-based company Dyn, which monitors the internet, said traffic dropped off at 09:00 GMT in what critics said, was a move by the government to suppress protests as other African incumbents have done.

Residents said that text messages had also been blocked.

The communications minister could not immediately be reached for comment on the cuts.

READ MORE: Togo protesters demand constitutional reform

Analysts said Gnassingbe may find himself isolated amid growing criticism of autocratic rule in West Africa.

"The president's position is very fragile and we do not think his peers in ECOWAS or his friends in Europe will help him if things get ugly," Francois Conradie, head of research at NKC African Economics, said.

Gnassingbe, who took power after his long-ruling father's death, has sought to appease opponents by introducing a draft bill to reform the constitution this week.

Such changes would reintroduce a two-term limit that was scrapped by the late Gnassingbe Eyadema in 2002.

But opposition leaders are sceptical that this would apply retroactively, meaning the current president might stay until 2030. They have called for his immediate departure.

Togo, a regional financial hub that aspires to be an "African Singapore", is at odds with West African neighbours, which mostly have laws restricting presidential mandates.

Togo along with The Gambia voted in 2015 against introducing term limits across the 15 members of the ECOWAS regional body, which Gnassingbe currently chairs.

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