A Senegalese opposition collective has called for fresh protests starting tomorrow, following days of clashes that have left at least four people dead.
At a news conference in the capital Dakar, the Movement for the Defence of Democracy – which includes the leading opposition party Pastef – urged Senegalese people to “massively descend on the streets”.
This came after days of clashes between opposition supporters and police in the West African state, which began after Pastef leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested on Wednesday.
Police arrested Sonko, 46, after scuffles with his supporters broke out while he was on his way to court to answer a rape charge – which he says is politically-motivated.
The arrest sparked violent clashes which continued through Friday – in the worst unrest Senegal has seen in years – with protesters torching cars and shops in the capital Dakar.
Although tensions appeared to have eased yesterday, the Movement for the Defence of Democracy – which includes civil-society groups as well as Pastef – called for three days of new protests from tomorrow.
It also demanded that the government release “political prisoners”, respect the right to protest, and that it restore the licences of the two television channels that were temporarily suspended for broadcasting images of the unrest.
Yesterday the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, which includes Senegal, urged all parties in the country to exercise restraint and to remain calm.
In a statement, it also called on the government “to take the necessary measures to ease tensions and guarantee the freedom to demonstrate peacefully”.
Sonko, who is popular with young Senegalese and seen as a challenger to President Macky Sall, is due to appear before a judge in Dakar tomorrow to face questions about the rape charge.
The Pastef leader ran against Sall in the 2019 election, but finished third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.
Sonko’s political future came into doubt in February, however, after an employee at a beauty salon where he received massages filed rape charges against him.
Frequently critical of Senegal’s governing elite, Sonko accused Sall of conspiring to sideline him from politics.
The 59-year-old president, in turn, has dismissed the allegation that he engineered Sonko’s legal troubles.
But to opposition supporters, Sonko’s arrest falls into a perceived pattern court cases against Sall opponents.
Karim Wade, the son of former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, was prevented from running in the 2019 election after being convicted for graft.
Ex-Dakar Mayor Khalifa Sall – another rival of Sall’s – was likewise stopped from running in 2019 after being jailed in 2017 for corruption.
The rape allegation against Sonko also comes as uncertainty grows over whether Sall will seek a third term in 2024.
Senegalese presidents are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions that he intends to run again.
Other presidents in West Africa – such as Guinea’s Alpha Conde or Ivory Coast’s Alassane Ouattara – have used constitutional changes to win third terms.
Senegal, a former French colony of 16mn people, is often heralded as a beacon of stability in an otherwise volatile part of the world.
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