The death toll in the Senegal violence has risen to 15 as supporters of convicted opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and police continued to clash, the government said on Saturday.
While Dakar was calmer on Saturday, clashes continued into the evening. In residential neighbourhoods, protesters threw rocks at police, barricaded roads and burned tyres. The army patrolled the streets as police fired tear gas at the demonstrators, inspecting and detaining people deemed to be causing trouble.
The clashes first broke out on Thursday, after Sonko was convicted of corrupting youth but acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlour and making death threats against her. Sonko, who did not attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said a warrant had not yet been issued for his arrest.
Sonko came third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and is popular with the country’s youth. His supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.
Sonko is considered President Macky Sall’s main competition and has urged Sall to state publicly that he will not seek a third term in office.
The international community has called on Senegal’s government to resolve the tensions.
Rights groups have condemned the government crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media. Some social media sites used by demonstrators to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, have been suspended for nearly two days.
They have blamed the government for the violence and the loss of lives.
Corrupting young people, which includes using one’s position of power to have sex with people below the age of 21, is a criminal offence in Senegal, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.
Under Senegalese law, Sonko’s conviction would bar him from running in next year’s election, said Bamba Cisse, another defence lawyer. However, the government said Sonko could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned. It was unclear when he would be taken into custody.
Sonko has not been heard from or seen since the verdict. In a statement on Friday, his PASTEF-Patriots party called on people to “amplify and intensify the constitutional resistance” until President Sall leaves office.
Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said the damage caused by months of demonstrations had cost the country millions of dollars. He argued the protesters posed a threat to democracy.
“These calls [to protest], it’s a bit like the anti-republican nature of all these movements that hide behind social networks and don’t believe in the foundations of democracy, which are elections, freedom of expression, but also the resources that our [legal] system offers,” Fofana said.