THE police killing of at least 12 people in an anti-government demonstration in Togo Jan. 25 is the latest in a series of clashes between civilian reformists and security forces in the West African state.
Speaking with the Monitor by phone Jan. 26, civilian opposition leaders expressed the hope that the new Clinton administration would help break an 18-month deadlock between military head of state Gen. Gnassingbe Eyadema and multiparty reformists, including Prime Minister Joseph Koffigoh.
Leopold Gnininvi, who heads a coalition of opposition political parties in Togo, said bluntly: "We are going to have a civil war." He said he was trying to reach President Clinton to "tell him to help us to avoid becoming another Somalia," where civil war has caused widespread death and anarchy over the past two years.
Angry Togolese youth have erected barricades downtown and in some opposition stronghold neighborhoods in Lome, the capital. They called on residents of Lome to observe a 48-hour general strike, starting Jan. 26.
"We decided this morning to go to the barricades," said one young opposition activist. "We can't go backward. They can kill us all."
"It's an explosive situation," said Stephane Koudossou, an employee of a private school in Lome.
Togo, a sliver-shaped country between Ghana and Benin, represents one of the worst examples of transition from dictatorship to democracy in Africa.
Following a number of violent confrontations between police and anti-government demonstrators in 1990 and 1991, General Eyadema reluctantly agreed to a national conference, held in August 1991. But reformists quickly took control of the conference, naming a new prime minister and claiming most of the powers Eyadema held.
Since then, the Army and police have been reclaiming Eyadema's power.
In December 1991, the Army attacked the prime minister's office, killing at least 12 people. Mr. Koffigoh escaped without injury.
Early in 1992 a Togolese human rights advocate was assassinated. Then on Oct. 22, 1992, the Army, in another show of force, invaded the interim Parliament set up by the national conference, roughing up members.
The shooting Jan. 25 by police came after thousands of Togolese were turned away from a scheduled meeting between a French/German delegation and Togolese civilian opposition leaders. A portion of the crowd regrouped at a public plaza.
Some members of the crowd wore white, to symbolize peace, and carried candles. But some youths in the crowd reportedly were armed with sticks and knives and manned a barricade of burning tires.
Senior French and German officials, visiting Togo at the time of the killings, condemned the violence.
Eyadema also has condemned the shootings. The government reportedly claimed only three protesters and one policeman were killed, and that police opened fire only after one of their colleagues had been seized by demonstrators. But an eyewitness told the Monitor the police opened fire on the crowd "without provocation."
French Cooperation Minister Marcel Debarge reportedly told Radio France Internationale that "at least 20 people" had been killed in the shooting. He and German Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Helmut Schaeffer had come to Togo to help defuse the mounting political tensions.
Koffigoh, appointed as prime minister by a national conference of opposition activists in mid-1991, told the Monitor: "I have the feeling the world has other things to do" than to help Togo.
"When peace is lost, even in a small country like Togo, the entire world community is affected," the prime minister said.
Koffigoh stressed that the need for "dialogue" in Togo was more urgent than ever. "There has to be a minimum of reconciliation" between the military government and the opposition, he said, in order to hold elections.
A civil war in Togo would gain little, he said. After the war there would still be a need for dialogue.
Mr. Gnininvi claims Eyadema uses force, not dialogue, to stay in power. "If there is someone who points a revolver at your neighbor, that's not dialogue," he added, referring to attacks Eyadema's Army and police have made on civilian opponents.
Another opposition leader, Yawo Agboyibo, said: "It's not by violence that we'll save Togo. [There is] no other solution" than dialogue. But the dialogue so far between Eyadema and the opposition has been superficial, he claims.