Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe broke his silence after months of protests against his rule, calling on the opposition to “dialogue” in his New Year address given late Wednesday.
“Dialogue must remain the preferred way of resolving disagreements between political actors,” Gnassingbe said in an address on national television, reiterating his controversial plans to revise the constitution.
It was the first time Gnassingbe has spoken directly to the public since the crisis began in September.
“I have no doubt that even today we are able to explore all avenues of dialogue and exchange of ideas to overcome grievances,” he said, without given a date for talks.
Gnassingbe, who has ruled Togo since 2005 after succeeding his father who led the country for 38 years, plans to hold a referendum on the revision of the constitution that imposes a presidential limit of two terms.
The revision has been rejected by the opposition because it would not be retroactive, meaning that Gnassingbe could run again in 2020 and 2025.
Since September, the opposition has been holding almost weekly protests demonstrating against Gnassingbe.
Concerned about instability the Togolese crisis may cause, in November West African leaders called for the president and the opposition to enter talks mediated by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and Guinea’s Alpha Conde.
Yet the talks have failed to start, with opposition leader Jean-Pierre Fabre demanding “measures for de-escalation”, including the release of detained protestors and the withdrawal of security forces in the country’s north.
A total of 16 people, including teenagers and two soldiers lynched by the crowd, have been killed since the protests began, according to AFP reports.
Public buildings and private houses — including those close to the government — were ransacked and burned.
“The perpetrators and perpetrators of acts of violence, destruction and killings must be sought and subjected to the law, and we owe it to the victims, to all the victims,” said Gnassingbe.