Senegalese police disperse protesters with tear gas
To disperse opposition supporters who sought to congregate in the capital Dakar for the first of three scheduled opposition rallies against the libel trial of one of its leaders, Senegal’s security forces used tear gas and stun grenades.
As the West African country prepared for more demonstrations over a court decision that has stoked tension and bloodshed before of presidential elections next year, stores and banks shuttered early on Wednesday.
On Thursday, opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing over a libel suit filed by the tourism minister, who claimed that Sonko had falsely accused him of theft.
Sonko’s followers have demonstrated often in recent weeks to protest a trial they believe is an effort by President Macky Sall’s administration to damage Sonko’s opponents before the election. The administration disputes this.
Sonko, 48, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election and has said he would run in the election in February 2024, might be removed from the voter list and barred as a candidate if proven guilty.
On March 16, the day of Sonko’s most recent court hearing, violence erupted when police sprayed tear gas onto Sonko’s convoy of supporters. Tyres were burnt during the protests, along with buses and a shop.
More rallies around the country are being scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, and April 3.
In order to prevent protests in the capital city of Dakar, authorities have deployed security officers to shut off the gathering area in front of the main campus.
The majority of the protestors were students, and police used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them from where they were throwing rocks into the university.
After the education ministry decided to move forward the school break by several days, schools were closed.
After Sonko’s attorneys said he was seeking medical attention for inhaling a chemical that affected his breathing and vision during the most recent demonstrations, the case was continued until March 30.
He is also accused of raping a worker at a beauty parlour in 2021 and threatening to kill her. Sonko claims the charges are politically driven and rejects any misconduct.
The charismatic former tax inspector, who has gained support from Senegal’s urban youth who are disenfranchised, has become the target of resentment over Sall’s refusal to rule out running for a third term the following year.
Senegal’s constitution only allows for two terms, but others worry that Sall would reset his term after a 2016 constitutional revision, imitating other leaders who have done the same to expand their authority in the region. He hasn’t said yes or no to this.
Amadou Sall, a representative for the ruling party, told journalists that “[Sall] said he would speak when the time is right.”