Benin police fire tear gas to break up union protestSat, 27 Apr 2024 10:09:14 GMT

Benin police on Saturday fired tear gas to break up a protest organised by labour unions in the economic capital Cotonou over high living costs and governance.Small groups of protesters had gathered at the site, which was cordoned off by squads of police who fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.”I came here to march against the high cost of living,” trader Ariane Assilamehou told AFP at the protest. “But you see police rushing towards us and firing tear gas.”Protesters chanted the national anthem during the clashes.CSA Benin, one of the country’s largest unions, said on X, formerly Twitter, that its leader Anselme Amoussou had been taken away by police. A union source said a dozen other protesters had been arrested. Police did not immediately issue a statement about the incident.In 2023, Benin’s economy was still resilient though like its neighbours in coastal West Africa trade suffered from the closure of the border with Niger after a coup there, an increase in inflation and a rise in petrol prices, according to the World Bank.Benin was once known as a thriving multi-party democracy, but critics say President Patrice Talon has led the small West African state down an authoritarian path since coming to power in 2016.”We are determined and committed and fear of the police cannot get the better of us,” Alban Kelomey, leader of a grassroots health workers union, said at the protest. “Workers in Benin are suffering. Everything is expensive and human rights are violated on a daily basis. It’s sad what the country has become under Talon.” Reckya Madougou — a chief opposition leader — was sentenced in 2021 to 20 years on charges of “complicity in terrorist acts” in a trial lawyers dismissed as a political attack.Critics say the Economic Crime and Terrorism Court, or CRIET, where she was tried, has been used by Talon’s regime to crack down on the opposition.Madougou was one of several Benin opposition leaders banned from running in a presidential election in 2021, in which Talon won a second term with 86 percent of the vote.Government officials dismiss claims of political interference and say Benin’s judiciary is independent.