LOME, Togo (AP) — Security forces in Togo beat peaceful protesters and fired tear gas to disperse thousands of opposition supporters who urged the president to step down, witnesses said, as anger in the small West African nation grows over the Gnassingbe family's 50 years in power.
Opposition supporters dressed in orange and red were playing music, cooking and singing in the capital's main square when police moved in late Thursday. The sit-in followed two days of demonstrations demanding the return of the country's 1992 constitution, which included presidential term limits.
Internet service has been down in the country of 7 million during the protests.
"The severe reaction of the security forces against largely peaceful protesters is a clear violation of the freedom of peaceful assembly," said Francois Patuel, Amnesty International's West Africa researcher.
Parliament says it will vote Tuesday on a draft bill that would return to the 1992 constitution, though it has not provided a copy of the draft or further details. Two years ago a similar bill was rejected in Parliament, where the ruling party holds a majority of seats.
The opposition parties also demand that Togo's diaspora population of 2 million have the right to vote in the 2020 presidential elections.
The opposition seeks the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe. While Gnassingbe has not said he will run in 2020, the opposition National Panafrican Party has said it suspects he will not quit power unless he is compelled to do so.
Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for West Africa, met with the president and opposition parties on Thursday to urge dialogue.
Chambas said he remains convinced that all sides want to move toward a consensus "to meet the legitimate expectations of the Togolese people."
Gnassingbe took over in 2005 after the death of his father, Eyadema, who ruled for 38 years and modified the constitution to extend his rule. The constitution had allowed for two five-year terms.
Later in 2005, Gnassingbe won elections marred by allegations of fraud and followed by deadly protests. He won re-election in 2010 and in 2015.
The latest protests began last month, with security forces killing at least two people and injuring several others, Amnesty International said. Dozens were sent to prison for up to 60 months, according to the human rights group.
The government condemned the protests, with the interior minister calling them extremist.