Violent clashes in northern Togo after imam arrested

Opposition supporters protest in the Be district of Lome on October 4, 2017. Thousands of people protested in Togo in the next phase of a campaign to force out President Faure Gnassingbe, whose dynasty has ruled the West African state for more than 50 years. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
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Violent clashes in northern Togo after imam arrested

LOME, Togo: Violence broke out in Togo’s second city, Sokode, after the arrest of an imam close to the country’s main opposition, fueling tensions after weeks of anti-government protests.
“Electricity was cut off at about 7:00 p.m. (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 teargas and stone-throwing,” one local told AFP.
“There were burning tires, 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, Col. 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 mobilized 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.


Babies not welcome in parliament, Danish speaker says

Members of the Dutch Senate (the First Chamber) in The Hague. (AFP)
Updated 5 min 35 sec ago
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Babies not welcome in parliament, Danish speaker says

  • In 2016, an Icelandic lawmaker made headlines after breastfeeding her infant while speaking at the podium in parliament

COPENHAGEN: A Danish lawmaker said Tuesday she was ordered to remove her infant daughter from parliament’s chamber, sparking surprise in a country often hailed as a pioneer in women’s rights.
“You are not welcome with your baby in the parliament’s chamber,” speaker Pia Kjaersgaard, an outspoken former leader of the far-right Danish People’s Party, allegedly told MP Mette Abildgaard.
“I didn’t ask for permission to bring her since I had previously seen another colleague bring a child into the chamber without any problems,” Abildgaard, whose Conservative party is part of the ruling center-right coalition, wrote on Facebook.
Abildgaard, who is in her 30s, said she found herself in an exceptional situation with her five-month-old daughter, and had never brought her into the chamber before.
But she said the infant was “in a good mood and had a pacifier in her mouth.”
Kjaersgaard passed the message to an assistant, who then asked Abildgaard to remove the baby from the room.
Abildgaard handed the child to an assistant and returned to the chamber to vote.
“MPs should be in the chamber, not babies or children,” insisted Kjaersgaard when questioned by news agency Ritzau.
She said clear rules would be issued on the subject.
The Scandinavian country is often held up as a champion of gender equality and women’s rights, and as a child and family-centered nation with generous parental leave.
Abildgaard noted that she was entitled to a year’s maternity leave with full pay, but that she had chosen to return to work.
Her Facebook post garnered more than 600 comments within the space of a few hours.
“A chamber that represents mothers, fathers and babies ought to be open to mothers, fathers and babies,” one person wrote.
In 2016, an Icelandic lawmaker made headlines after breastfeeding her infant while speaking at the podium in parliament.
And in September, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern became a symbol for working mothers when she brought her baby to the UN General Assembly in New York.