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Togolese security forces invade home of opposition challenger in presidential polls4 minutes read

Agbeyome Kodjo is seen as a potential dark horse against President Faure Eyadema in the Togolese polls after winning the backing of an influential former Catholic archbishop.

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Nine "Western Togoland" secessionist leaders freed in Ghana
Togolese security forces, FPU at a patrol in the capital, Lome./AFP

Togolese security forces on Saturday invaded the home of a key opposition candidate and challenger in Saturday’s presidential election for a number of hours after polls closed.

“They’ve just left,” Agbeyome Kodjo — considered an important challenger in the electoral race — told Radio France Internationale.

The election is widely expected to see President Faure Gnassingbe claim a fourth term in power.

A large contingent of security forces had blocked all access to the property in the capital Lome, according to an AFP report.

The government had also confirmed the move, saying it was for Kodjo’s “own safety”. 

Military roadblocks were also put up elsewhere in the city, and internet connections appeared to be sporadically interrupted.

Polls closed at 1600 GMT Saturday after what had been a peaceful election day with a moderate turnout.

Gnassingbe, who was running against six other candidates, has led the West African country of eight million people since 2005 following the death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled with an iron fist for 38 years.

Kodjo is seen as a potential dark horse in the polls after winning the backing of an influential former Catholic archbishop.

A former prime minister who served under Gnassingbe’s father, he appeared to have gained ground during the electoral campaign. 

“The Togolese want change, they want an alternative,” he said early Saturday as he voted in Lome.

“And when we see all this mobilisation and all the methods of fraud put in place by the government, if at the end of the election, the government dares to say that it has won, imagine the rest.”

Togo security minister Yark Damehame said both Kodjo’s home and that of the former archbishop had been surrounded as a precaution.

“We have received reports that he is at risk of an attack on his house by unruly individuals, but I cannot tell you from which side,” he said.

– Opposition challenge –  

Results are expected early next week according to electoral officials. 

The six opposition candidates have suggested they will unite against the president if the vote goes to a second round, which would happen within 15 days of the result announcement if none of the candidates achieves a majority. 

Gnassingbe travelled to the family’s home region of Kara to vote, and called on Togolese to “express your choice in complete freedom for the sake of democracy”.

Main opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre of the National Alliance for Change came second at the last two elections but has failed to keep the opposition united.

He called on people to vote in numbers “to prevent fraud and allow for a second round”.

In Be, an opposition district of Lome that normally goes to Fabre’s ANC party, some voters shouted to observers that they had “given our votes to Agbeyome”.

The authorities faced major protests in 2017 and 2018 demanding an end to five decades of dynastic rule that have failed to lift many out of poverty. 

But the demonstrations petered out in the face of government repression and squabbles among the opposition. 

Last year, Gnassingbe pushed through constitutional changes allowing him to run again — and potentially remain in office until 2030.

In Lome on Saturday, some voters expressed hope for change.

“We suffer too much in Togo, this time it has to change,” said Eric, a driver in his 30s.

“I am not going to tell you who I will vote for, but this time we don’t want to be cheated of victory.”

– Observers removed -This week, 500 local observers lost their accreditation, accused of interfering in the electoral process, and the system of electronic security of the results was cancelled at the last moment by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

However, some 315 international observers were deployed, mainly from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union, with many African states supporting the incumbent.

“Where we were, the offices opened on time, the voters were there, the staff and the equipment were there, so we hope everything will continue to go well,” Hery Rajaonarimanpianina, head of the AU mission and former Madagascar president, told AFP earlier. 

Stability and security are central to Gnassingbe’s message as Togo eyes the jihadist violence rocking its northern neighbour Burkina Faso. 

The country has so far managed to prevent the bloodshed spilling over and its army and intelligence service are among the most effective in the region.

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Crackdown on rebels trigger outcry against Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

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Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed to avoid questions at Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed./AFP photo

Desta Garuma, a 27-year-old rickshaw driver, never showed much interest in politics, so his family has no idea how soldiers concluded he was involved in a rebel movement active in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.

But one day in January, five truckloads of soldiers followed him home, shouting that they had identified a shifta, or bandit — a euphemism for rebel, an AFP report said.

As his mother and younger sister cowered inside, the soldiers fatally shot Desta three times in the back, according to witnesses.

“When I heard the shots I said, ‘Oh my God, they killed my son,'” Desta’s mother, Likitu Merdasa, told AFP.

“My son was not a troublemaker. We hoped he would be able to improve his life as well as mine. But now he has been taken from me before his time.”

The killing is one of an array of abuses that residents, opposition politicians and rights groups accuse soldiers of committing in and around Nekemte, a market town in Oromia, as part of a crackdown on rebels that has intensified this year.

Community leaders contend ordinary civilians are bearing the brunt of the operations, which include mass detentions, an internet blackout and restrictions on political activity.

The Ethiopian military rejects claims that its activities endanger civilians.

Yet Nekemte residents say the soldiers’ presence recalls life under past authoritarian regimes in Ethiopia, tarnishing the image of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the Nobel Peace laureate trying to steer the country toward landmark elections in August.

This is especially disheartening for the Oromo ethnic group, who had hoped they would benefit from the appointment of Abiy, himself an Oromo, as prime minister in 2018.

“When the reform came, we all hoped this kind of thing would not happen to Oromo people,” Likitu said.

“But now they’re coming to the doors of our houses and killing our children in front of us.”

– Escalating operations-The military is ostensibly targeting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), blamed for a spate of assassinations, bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings in Oromia.

The OLA, believed to number in the low thousands, broke off from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile but was allowed to return to Ethiopia after Abiy took office.

The government has offered little specific information about military operations in Nekemte and the broader region that surrounds it, known as Wollega.

But there are signs that counterinsurgency efforts have escalated since January, said William Davison, Ethiopia analyst for the International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict-prevention organisation.

“It appears the government decided to make a renewed effort to entirely remove the threat of armed groups from the area,” Davison said.

Brigadier General Tilahun Ashenafi, foreign relations director of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, defended the military’s actions, saying he had “no idea” about civilian casualties.

Soldiers are acting in a “very good way in that region in order to clear anti-peace elements”, he told AFP.

– Beatings, detentions-But many residents of Nekemte see the military, not the rebels, as the main source of instability.

Asfaw Kebede, a 60-year-old community leader, told AFP he grew alarmed last year at the jailing without charge of young men in Kumsa Moroda Palace, a one-time tourist attraction that residents said had been turned into a makeshift detention facility.

When Asfaw started bringing the men food, soldiers locked him up too, holding him in a dark cell for six weeks with roughly 100 other detainees.

All the men were deprived of proper food and medical care, Asfaw said.

The palace teemed with snakes and mice, and when they entered the cells inmates who scrambled to get away were beaten with batons, he said.

Opposition political parties have also been affected by the military presence.

Representatives of both the OLF and the Oromo Federalist Congress said their offices had been closed multiple times and their members detained.

Such tactics are fuelling sympathy for the OLA, said Tamirat Biranu, head of an evangelical church in Nekemte.

“Young people are very sad about this and also they are angry at the government,” he said. “Because of this, some of the youth are joining the rebels.”

-‘A heavy toll’-As bad as things might be in Nekemte, they are likely worse in rural areas farther west, where phone service has been cut for months, said Asebe Regassa, a lecturer at Wollega University. 

“Killings are occurring on a daily basis in rural areas,” Asebe said, adding that farmers are afraid of harvesting their crops, fearing soldiers will accuse them of growing food for the OLA.

The military operations are “clearly taking a heavy toll,” said Laetitia Bader of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

“Ahead of the 2020 national elections the government should be working to build trust with communities,” she said.

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Italian diagnosed with coronavirus in Nigeria, health condition ‘stable’

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” a Nigerian health official in Lagos said.

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Nigeria's Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, being addressed by the Director General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu (middle) and the laboratory team during his visit to the NCDC National Reference Laboratory in Gaduwa, Abuja on Jan. 12./The Guardian Nigeria

Nigerian health authorities have announced the country’s first case of the dreaded Corona virus or COVID-19 after a visiting Italian businessman got diagnosed and was isolated for treatment and currently “stable with no serious symptoms”.

The COVID-19 patient was detected in the commercial city of Lagos and is the first case recorded in sub-Saharan Africa so ce the disease broke out in China in January.
  
“The case is an Italian citizen who entered Nigeria on the 25th of Feburary from Milan, Italy for a brief business visit. He fell ill on the 26th February and was transfered to Lagos State Biosecurity Facilities for isolation and testing,” Akin Abayomi, Lagos health commissioner said in a statement early Friday.

Abayomi, a Professor of Medicine, said the COVID-19 infection was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

“The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos,” the Nigerian health official said.
 
Health authorities in the West African country have been strengthening measures to ensure that any outbreak in major cities like Lagos or elsewhere is controlled and contained quickly through the multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group, led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

“We have immediately activated the State Emergency Operations Centre to respond to this case and implement firm control measures,” Lagos city authorities said.
  
Officials announced that they were “working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he arrived in Nigeria” for diagnosis and isolation, if the need arises.

“Everywhere is vulnerable to Coronavirus. Nigeria is even more prepared than some countries. We are doing our best. There is no change in what we are doing to contain a possible outbreak of Coronavirus in the country,” Health minister, Dr. Emmanuel Ehanire had said in a previous media briefing.

“The Chinese have given us clinical criteria. We suspect and address anything that looks like Coronavirus because the cost of testing is very high.” The Nigerian health minister concluded.

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Guinea referendum, legislative polls must be ‘transparent’: UN rights chief

Months of protests against the referendum have resulted in “dozens of deaths,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

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Guinean President Alpha Conde on a campaign. The referendum on constitutional changes is seen by critics as a ploy by President Conde, 81, to stay in power for a third term, after a decade in power./AFP

The United Nations on Thursday called on Guinean authorities to ensure that this weekend’s referendum and legislative votes are transparent and inclusive, warning that any escalation in the country’s crisis would be “profoundly harmful”.

Guinea, a country with a long tradition of political turmoil, is to vote on Sunday in a referendum and in a legislative election.

The referendum on constitutional changes is seen by critics as a ploy by President Alpha Conde, 81, to stay in power for a third term, after a decade in power, an AFP report said.

Months of protests against the referendum have resulted in “dozens of deaths,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday.

“Reports also indicate that ethnic divisions are deepening, with increasing incitement to hatred and violence on social media and at political rallies,” she said.

“Any further escalation of this crisis could be profoundly harmful.”

Bachelet highlighted a warning about  “serious irregularities in the voters’ register” from the international association of French-speaking countries, OIF, earlier this week.

“I urge the authorities to avert greater turmoil and ensure that the electoral process is transparent and inclusive,” she said.

Guinea has suffered serious unrest over the plans for constitutional reform. At least 30 people and a gendarme, have lost their lives, according to an AFP tally.

Jailed under previous hardline regimes, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010.

He was returned to office by voters in 2015 for his second and final five-year term under the current constitution, but critics say he has become authoritarian.

Earlier this month he left the door open to running for a third term, saying there was “nothing more democratic” than the referendum on constitutional change.

The National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) has called for a boycott of the vote.

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