Senegal has unveiled a multi-million dollar statue marking 50 years of independence, with 19 African heads of state attending the ceremony which sparked mass protest by opposition members.
The 50-metre sculpture of a man, a woman and an infant has been criticised for its cost and a Muslim leader has issued a fatwa against it, branding it "un-Islamic".
Abdoulaye Wade, the Senegalese president, was joined on Saturday by scores of dignitaries for the opening ceremony.
Notable dignitaries included Bingu wa Mutharika, the Malawian and African Union president, and Jean Ping, the head of the African Union Commission.
The presidents of Benin, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania and Zimbabwe were also among those present.
A delegation from North Korea - which built the statue - and a delegation of 100 African-Americans, including Reverend Jesse Jackson and Senegalese-American singer Akon, attended the ceremony.
At the same time, thousands of demonstrators marched in the capital Dakar to demand Wade's resignation over the Soviet-style bronze monument.
Protesters included Ousmane Tanor Dieng, the head of the opposition Socialist Party, Macky Sall, a former prime minister, and Moustapha Niasse, a former foreign minister.
|Senegalese opposition supporters hold a mock statue and demand Wade's resignation [AFP]
Ndeye Fatou Toure, the deputy opposition leader, said the statue was an "economic monster and a financial scandal in the context of the current crisis," in a country where half the population lives below the poverty line.
Riot police patrolled the streets as demonstrators held up banners attacking the government and the president.
"The people demand ethical governance and reject the gangster management of the Wade clan," one placard during the march read.
The $28 million statue has been criticised as a waste of money in a country where almost 20 per cent of the population is undernourished, while Muslims have criticised it for presenting the human form as an object of worship.
"We have issued a fatwa [religious ruling] urging Senegal's imams this Friday to read the holy Quran in the mosques simply to ask Allah to preserve us from the punishment this monument of shame risks bringing on Senegal," Imam Massamba Diop told followers at his central Dakar mosque.
The sculpture of a muscular man pulling a scantily clad woman has also been labelled as sexist and the female's "naked legs" caused a controversy with the architect offering to remodel the sculpture.
But opposition supporters object not just to the monument, located on a hill overlooking the Senegalese capital, but to plans by the president to profit from the tourism revenues it would generate.
Wade has said one-third of the revenues expected would could go to him, since according to him, he came up with the concept.
Taller than the Statue of Liberty if the base of the New York monument is not counted, the "African Renaissance" sculpture has also provoked anger over its style.
The monument has been built by about 50 North Korean labourers, another source of discontent in a country where formal employment is scarce.
Ebrima Sillah, a journalist in Senegal, said a lot of Senegal artists are known around the world for their good architecture.
|The monument is taller than the Statue
of Liberty in New York [AFP]
"But President Abdoulaye Wade has conceived this idea to make it one of the best monuments in the world and because the North Koreans are known to be some of the best experts in that he decided to go for them.
"President Abdoulaye Wade has said that this monument in the long run will bring in a lot of money because it will attract tourists to Dakar ... Local artists in Dakar and other parts of Senegal can come and exhibit their displays and show to the world that this is a place where art also lives."
In a seemingly never-ending stream of criticism, Wade has been forced to apologise to Senegal's Christian minority after likening the statue to Jesus Christ.
He had sought to deflect an imam's criticism of the statue on religious grounds by comparing it to the statues of Jesus found in churches.
Wade has been continuing to defend the monument, writing: "This African who emerges from the volcano, facing the West ... symbolises that Africa which freed itself from several centuries of imprisonment in the abyssal depths of ignorance, intolerance and racism, to retrieve its place on this land, which belongs to all races, in light, air and freedom."
Senegal's independence day is on Sunday and military parades have been planned with about 30 heads of state invited to attend.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies