Togo + 2 more

Togo: Human rights group says 790 killed, 4,345 hurt in election violence

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LOME, 13 May (IRIN) - The Togolese League of Human Rights said on Friday that 790 people have been killed and 4,345 hurt in political violence triggered by the election of Faure Gnassingbe to succeed his father as president of the West African nation.

"The international community must hold an inquiry given the scale of the human rights violations," Ayayi Apedo-Amah, the secretary-general of the organisation, told IRIN.

Photos released by the group showed corpses of young men who had been disembowelled or had their faces hacked to bits with machetes. Other survivors were pictured, their faces bleeding after being attacked with nail-spiked clubs.

The government was not immediately available to comment on the new toll. But on Thursday Gnassingbe ordered a national commission of inquiry into the violence that erupted after the disputed 24 April poll.

"The national inquiry commission's results will be made public within three months," said a statement posted on the government's website.

The casualty toll released by the Human Rights League in what it described as "a preliminary report" were based on reports from hospitals, the morgue, witnesses and complaints filed by relatives, Apedo-Amah told IRIN.

The report said it aimed to present "an initial glimpse of acts of violence organised by the Togolese Armed Forces (FAT), the (paramilitary) gendarmerie and the national police, backed by militias working for the RPT (the ruling Rally for the Togolese People party) regime."

The figures cover the period from 28 March, when the authorities began updating the electoral registry, until 5 May, the day after Gnassingbe was officially sworn in to replace his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years until his death on 5 February.

Previously, diplomats had estimated that around 100 people died and 2,000 were injured in street fighting that erupted on 26 April after Gnassingbe was declared winner of the election, despite opposition claims that the poll had been rigged.

Calm returned to the country within days after security forces stepped in to clear the streets of barricades and protesters.

But around 24,000 people have fled into neighbouring Benin and Ghana in fear of more repression, particularly from areas and city districts known to be favourable to the opposition.

Many of the refugees have reported incidents of police and security forces firing at civilians and aid workers have seen many bullet wounds.

Asked whether the human rights group had been surprised by the high toll, Apedo-Amah said: "We are surprised. What is going on here is a day-by-day drama. We are worried."

He told IRIN that opposition supporters, particularly youngsters, were still being intimidated by security forces, as were known members of the opposition.

Only this week, he said, police had fired into a classroom at Agbodrafo, 35 km from Lome, and detained two students.

"People are living in fear," the human rights campaigner added.

In a separate development, the European Parliament on Thursday passed a resolution condemning "the brutal repression perpetrated by the police against the people" in Togo and demanded an inquiry.

It also slammed the elections, saying they "do not comply with the conditions laid down as a precondition for the resumption of cooperation between Togo and the European Union."

Both France and the Economic Community of West African States have described the vote as basically fair, while conceding there have been a few irregularities.

But in a sharp statement last week the US State Department said "the legitimacy of Togo's presidential elections fell short of the aspirations of the Togolese people and the expectations of Togo's friends in the international community."

The EU, which helped establish 22 commitments in April 2004 to promote democracy and civil liberties, has a financial stick of about 40 million euros that it can wield to exert pressure on the government in Lome.

The EU cut off aid to the former French colony in 1993 because of "democratic deficiencies".

The MEP, or European parliamentarians, called for a national conference to find a solution to the crisis and "to envisage new presidential and legislative elections worthy of the name: i.e. democratic, free, fair and transparent, under international supervision and after a consensual review of the code and the electoral rolls."

[ENDS]

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