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Togo opposition protests activist’s death in jail

May 13, 2013

LOME, Togo (AP) — Activists in Togo charged Monday that a detained leader died in custody after authorities refused a request to bring him to a hospital, the latest dispute between the government and an increasingly vocal opposition.

Kodjo Yakanou was among the opposition supporters who have been detained for questioning for months in connection with the January burning of two main markets.

Authorities say Yakanou was suffering from malaria at the time of his death Friday, but his supporters maintain his death could have been prevented.

“His wife and the lawyer asked that the late opposition leader should be rushed to hospital for appropriate medical assistance but the gendarmes refused,” said Zeus Atta Messan Ajavon, the national coordinator of “Let Us Save Togo,” the country’s most prominent opposition group.

A government statement issued Monday said Yakanou ultimately was rushed to a Lome hospital but he died before any medical intervention. He had malaria and the official cause of death was listed as a heart attack, authorities said.

The same family has ruled Togo for almost half a century. President Faure Gnassingbe assumed power in 2005 after the death of his father, the longtime dictator, Eyadema Gnassingbe.

Although the younger Gnassingbe has since won two elections, his presidency is still seen by many as an illegitimate extension of his father’s reign.

Last year the tiny West African nation was rocked by violent protests over legislative elections that later prompted the prime minister to resign.

In other unrest, the Togolese government said Monday that 30 police officers had been injured after clashes with demonstrators over the weekend in Niamtougou 280 miles (450 kilometers) north of Lome.

The violence came after a local philosophy professor was charged with “acts of violence against security forces.” Tadouna Apeta had tried to cross the road last week as the presidential motorcade was passing by.

The statement said angry youths later vandalized the police headquarters in Niamtougou and clashed with police Saturday, and Apeta was subsequently released.

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