Senegal braces for further protests

Demonstrations in Dakar planned after two people shot dead amid anger sparked by court backing for Wade re-election bid.

Senegal opposition protests
Abdoulaye Wade’s decision to seek a third term has fuelled speculation that he wants to line up a successor [AFP]

Senegal is bracing for more demonstrations on Tuesday, a day after at least two people were reportedly shot dead in confrontations between protesters and police, as opposition parties vowed to continue agitation against President Abdoulaye Wade’s controversial bid for a third term.

Leaders of the opposition June 23 Movement, known as M23, and civil society groups called for “a peaceful gathering” on Tuesday at 3:00pm local time [1500 GMT] in Colobane, a suburb of the capital Dakar where a rally on Friday turned violent leading to the death of one policeman.

Mor Ngom, of the June 23 Movement of opposition parties and civil society opposed to Wade’s elections plans, said on Tuesday afternoon that authorities had “accepted” their application to hold a mass rally. The statement from the organisers came after the interior ministry had earlier said that that the opposition had not gained authorisation to hold a rally.

The two deaths were reported in protests by M23 supporters in the northern town of Podor, though details of the incident remained sketchy. Reports suggested those killed were a 17-year-old protester and a 60-year-old female bystander.

Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, Senegal’s presidential spokesman, said: “The real combat is the one we must lead to hold a transparent election… being a candidate means nothing.”

“We deplore the will (of the opposition) to lead the country into chaos… We don’t want Senegal to go up in flames.”

The constitutional council on Monday dismissed all appeals against Wade’s candidacy, leaving no legal recourse for opponents who accuse him of carrying out a constitutional coup.

“Today’s bloodshed marks a dramatic escalation in the violence that has plagued Senegal in the run-up to its elections.

– Salvatore Sagues, Amnesty International

The opposition has vowed to continue mass resistance to force Wade to step aside prior to the February 26 presidential vote.

Senegal, which some see as a beacon of democracy among troubled neighbours, is the only country in mainland West Africa not to have had a coup since the end of the colonial era.

Rights group Amnesty International urged the government to halt a clampdown on protesters following the reported deaths in Podor.

“Today’s bloodshed marks a dramatic escalation in the violence that has plagued Senegal in the run-up to its elections,” Salvatore Sagues, the UK-based rights body’s West Africa researcher, said.

The US urged 85-year-old Wade to allow power to pass “to the next generation”.

“While we respect the process, the political and legal process in Senegal, the fact that he’s now been cleared to run, our message to him remains the same: that the statesmanly-like thing to do would be to cede to the next generation, and we think that would be better,” Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, said.

“Our view is that Senegalese democracy is strong enough to move to the next generation.”

Opposition leader freed


But El Hadj Amadou Salla, minister of state and a senior Wade campaign official, said it was “too late” to prevent Wade running since his candidacy had already been validated.

The opposition argues that the constitution allows a president to serve only two consecutive terms, but Wade says the law, which was amended in 2008, does not apply retroactively and cannot take into account his previous two terms.

Wade has dismissed opposition protests as “temper tantrums”.

Police, meanwhile, freed a co-ordinator of the M23 protest movement on Monday after two days in custody.

Alioune Tine, a prominent member of the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO) said he was freed without being charged.

“I still don’t know what they accused me of,” the activist told the AFP news agency.

Wade said in a recent interview with a local news website that he needed three more years to complete his projects, fuelling speculation that he wanted to line up a successor.

Source: News Agencies