- Supporters of opposition politician clash with police
- Presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko is accused of libel
- Protesters suspect President Macky Sall wants a third term in office
DAKAR, March 16 (Reuters) – Police on Thursday fired tear gas at stone-hurling protesters in Senegal’s capital ahead of a trial involving a prominent opposition politician that has sparked anger among youths.
Demonstrators in Dakar burned tires and set fire to buses and a major supermarket, the latest outbreak of violence that has shaken Senegal’s reputation as a bastion of stable democracy ahead of next year’s presidential elections.
Thursday’s clashes began when supporters of presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko were prevented from accompanying his motorcade to a courthouse where he faces libel charges.
The trial was postponed to March 30 after Sonko’s lawyers said he was seeking medical treatment for inhaling a substance that affects his breathing and eyesight.
Sonko, 48, who came third in the 2019 presidential election, is also accused of raping a beauty salon employee in 2021 and making death threats against her. He denies all allegations and says the allegations are politically motivated to prevent him from participating in the February 2024 polls.
Much of the anger in the streets has been directed against President Macky Sall, whose failure to run for a third term has enraged many.
“The background to this situation is the question of the third term and the alleged witch hunt against opponents, including Sonko, who was assaulted and bunkered in his home. This ultimately exacerbated the situation,” said Moussa Diaw, a political analyst at the Gaston Berger University in the northwestern Senegalese city of Saint Louis.
Senegal’s constitution only allows for two terms, but some fear Sall will use a recent amendment to the constitution to reset his mandate, repeating a tactic used by other rulers to extend power elsewhere in the region .
“We chose Macky Sall to work, not to establish a dictatorship. He must leave Sonko alone. If he doesn’t leave him alone, we will burn the country down,” said a stone-throwing Sonko supporter who requested not to be named for security reasons.
By the end of the afternoon, peace had largely returned to Dakar.
Protests have taken place three days before Sonko appears in court. More than 10,000 supporters gathered on a pitch in Dakar on Tuesday to cheer him on.
The former tax inspector urged supporters to join him in court on Thursday. But his convoy and moneylenders were stopped by the police along a main road. Sonko was bundled out of his car and bundled into a police armored personnel carrier which took him to court.
Sonko supporters accuse Sall of trying to eliminate him from the league with a guilty verdict.
The libel suit was brought by Senegal’s tourism minister, who said Sonko had accused him of embezzlement.
Reporting by Bate Felix, Ngouda Dione and Diadie Ba; Written by Sofia Christensen; Edited by Edward McAllister and Alex Richardson
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