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Africa
Wade defiant as tense Senegal braces for vote
Incumbent president says there is "no going back" in his bid for third term, despite protests before Sunday's vote.
Last Modified: 25 Feb 2012 10:06

Senegal's presidential candidates have held their final rallies before Sunday's elections as protesters marched in the streets and a respected African stateman sought to broker a solution to the country's political standoff.

President Abdoulaye Wade, the 85-year-old incumbent whose controversial decision to seek a third term has provoked street protests and an opposition movement calling on him to quit, told supporters at a rally in Dakar on Friday that there was "no going back".

"I am in good health. If the Senegalese people want me for a new term, I will do it," Wade told Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons on Friday.

The West African country's reputation as the oldest and most established democracy in the region is on the line, with opposition factions threatening further protests if Wade stands for office.

SENEGAL'S ELECTIONS

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  In pictures: Senegal prepares for elections
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  Opinion: Senegal's petit dictator is the West's man

That has brought former Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria's former president, to the country in a bid to defuse tensions and mediate between Wade and his opponents.

Wade's bid to retain power has outraged many Senegalese citizens, resulting in a series of demonstrations and clashes between opposition supporters and police services that have left several people dead.

Wade's opponents say he is ineligible to stand for office because of a consititutional two-term limit. But Senegal's top court has approved Wade's candidacy on the grounds that he served his first term before the limit was introduced.

The M23 movement, an umbrella grouping of activists, opposition leaders and youth have called that ruling a "constitutional coup".

Women in white

More than a hundred women wearing white as a symbol of peace marched in a central square on Friday afternoon.

The women chanted "This is enough, we are tired", and "Free the people", and sang the Senegalese national anthem. They also chanted: "The cost of living is too expensive."

Al Jazeera's Azad Essa reporting for Dakar said: "From the opposition there were some small rallies reported across the city that were peaceful and non-confrontational.

"There are still some concerns over violence during the voting process on Sunday, but most are concerned about the possibility of violence if Wade wins this election," said our reporter.

Wade's final push for votes ahead of Sunday's vote, culminated in a rally in front of thousands in Dakar at which he announced that he had won the endorsement of an influential marabout, or religious leader, from the Mouride Muslim brotherhood.

"There is no going back, the problem of the constitutional legality of my candidacy is behind us," Wade told the crowd. "There will be no negotiating about the mandate which will be delivered to me by the people."

Wade suggested there might be a place for the opposition in his government if he won, although three of his main rivals are former prime ministers with whom he has fallen out bitterly.

"My government will be open, even to the opposition to whom I will make offers, which we can discuss."

He urged supporters to "vote massively for me so that I am elected in the first round."

Fragmented opposition

Wade faces a fragmented opposition, with 13 candidates standing against him, including Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Moustapha Niasse, and socialist leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng.

Sall, a former prime minister who is considered one of Wade's main rivals, urged his supporters to beat Wade at the ballot box, rejecting calls from some opposition factions for a boycott of Sunday's poll.

Sall told Al Jazeera's Essa that a boycott would be an open invitation for Wade to retain power.

"We go to elections with or without Wade, even if he doesn't have the right to participate in these elections," Sall said.

Dieng also drew several thousand people to a final rally.

Wade was first elected in 2000 to great euphoria as he unseated the socialists after 40 years in office.

However growing social anger over unemployment and crippling power cuts which spilled into the streets last year have heightened tensions.

Wade says he needs more time in office to finish his "Grand Projects", but he is accused of seeking to line up his son Karim Wade to succeed him, which has incensed the opposition.

Both former colonial power France and the United States have criticised Wade's decision to run again, urging him to retire and allow power to pass to the next generation.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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