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By John Zodzi and Henry Wilkins
LOME, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Security forces in Togo used batons, tear gas and live bullets against protesters seeking an end to President Faure Gnassingbe’s rule on Wednesday and a child was killed in the ensuing clashes, according to Amnesty International.
Tensions are mounting over the president’s tenure and thousands marched nationwide against government reforms announced on Tuesday which they say will allow the Gnassingbe family dynasty to run the West African country until 2030.
“There was a 9-year-old boy killed in Mango by military forces. He was shot in the head,” said Francois Patuel, of Amnesty International, citing local sources including family members. Security Minister Damehame Yark confirmed that a child had been shot dead in Mango, hundreds of kilometres north of the capital Lome, but blamed the PNP opposition party.
Riots also broke out in the northern city of Bafilo between protesters against Gnassingbe and his supporters, injuring several, opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre said at the end of a peaceful march in Lome.
The former French colony of 8 million people that is home to several large firms, including Ecobank and regional airline ASKY, has a history of violent political repression.
Hundreds were killed in the aftermath of Gnassingbe’s contested election win in 2005. Shortly afterward, he pledged to re-introduce the term limits his father scrapped and align Togo with most of its West African neighbours, which are bucking a trend toward life-long presidencies elsewhere on the continent.
Gnassingbe, now in his third term, dropped the reforms until parliament this week attempted to cap future presidencies to two terms of five years, but the bill did not get enough backing due to an opposition boycott and will be decided by referendum instead.
In Lome, people wearing the red and orange T-shirts of the opposition banged on tam-tams and sang a traditional battle song “Strength to the Great” in the local Ewe language. Others carried a giant banner saying: “People of Togo say No! 50 years is enough!”
“The referendum is not what we want. We are asking for the president to leave,” said 42-year-old Paulin Kossi.
Nearby, a large crowd gathered on a beachside boulevard to show their support for the UNIR ruling party while a motorcycle parade bearing flags with Gnassingbe’s snaked through the streets, flanked by a police escort.
Residents also complained of internet cuts - a method increasingly used by governments to stifle criticism at sensitive times. Protests both against and in support of the president are set to resume on Thursday. (Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge; editing by Robin Pomeroy and G Crosse)