Unrest in Senegal as police clash with opposition supporters

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Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko greets his supporters as he arrives to attend the protest to demand the release of alleged political prisoners ahead of his court appearance on Thursday on libel charges, in Dakar, Senegal, on March 14, 2023 [Zohra Bensemra/Senegal]

Ousmane Sonko, widely supported by Senegalese youth, is facing a civil libel case filed against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for alleged defamation and public insults.

Police and demonstrators clashed in Senegal’s capital Dakar on Thursday before a court case involving opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who is widely supported by many of the West African country’s youth.

Law enforcement officers fired tear gas at hundreds of Sonko supporters as they trailed vehicles taking him to court for the resumption of a civil libel case against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for alleged defamation and public insults.

Protesters burned tyres in the streets and hurled stones at police. A large supermarket was set on fire, the reporters said.

Sonko, 48, is also charged with raping a beauty salon employee in 2021 and making death threats against her. He denies all wrongdoing and says the accusations are politically motivated. No date has been set for the trial.

Thursday’s skirmishes are the latest round of unrest in Senegal, where presidential elections are scheduled for February next year. The country has long been seen as a bastion of stability and democracy in a restive region, a reputation shaken by deadly violence over the last two years.

Much of the anger is targeted towards President Macky Sall, whose failure to rule out running for a third term in office has angered many. Senegal’s constitution only allows two terms, but some fear that Sall will use a recent tweak to the constitution to reset his mandate, a tactic used by other rulers to extend power in the region.

His government has also been accused of imprisoning dissidents and members of the opposition.

But many Senegalese youths have also been drawn to Sonko because of high unemployment and economic hardship.

This has led to sporadic and sometimes violent protests. Cries of “Macky Sall is a dictator” rang out in Dakar during one protest in July 2022.

Tensions have flared before Sonko’s court appearance this week, with three days of protest. More than 10,000 supporters gathered at a field in Dakar on Tuesday to cheer on Sonko, who hopes to run for president in February. The former tax inspector came third in the 2019 polls – the youngest candidate in that election.

Sonko supporters accuse Sall of seeking to eliminate him from the competition with a guilty verdict.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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