Senegal clashes kill one after opposition leader arrested

First confirmed protester death in clashes since Ousmane Sonko was detained on Wednesday for ‘disturbing public order’.

A supporter of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko holds a Senegal flag during street battles with security forces in Dakar on Thursday [Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Senegalese police clashed with supporters of arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Thursday, leaving one person dead.

It was the first death confirmed in clashes since Sonko was detained on Wednesday for disturbing public order as protests broke out before his court appearance on a rape charge.

Sonko, leader of the opposition Pastef party and a former presidential candidate, is considered a key potential challenger for President Macky Sall in elections in three years.

One person was killed in clashes in Bignona town, in the southern Casamance region, a police official said.

“We still don’t know the cause, it is under investigation,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. Four police were also injured in the fighting.

Sonko’s arrest triggered the worst unrest seen in the capital of Senegal in years, a West African country known for its stability.

Senegalese authorities also suspended the signal of two private television stations for 72 hours on Thursday, accusing them of broadcasting “in loop” images of unrest triggered by Sonko’s arrest.

The decision announced by the National Audiovisual Regulatory Council (CNRA) affects Sen TV and Walf TV channels.

Due in court

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, said students and supporters of Sonko had thrown stones at police, prompting special forces “to take control of the situation”.

“They have been throwing tear gas and trying to get the protesters to move back, but to no avail,” he added.

Senegalese police fire tear gas to move away university students who support arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko [Seyllou/AFP]

Sonko was transferred Thursday evening to a Dakar court where his case will be heard by a judge on Friday.

“Ousmane Sonko is now the subject of a warrant. He will be taken to the investigating magistrate tomorrow, willingly or by force,” Abdoulaye Tall, one of his lawyers, told the AFP news agency.

‘Everyone has to comply’

Hundreds of people followed his motorcade on Wednesday, sounding horns and singing before clashes erupted and Sonko was arrested before reaching the court.

Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said Sonko was detained over a ban on gatherings because of the coronavirus and violating a traffic plan put in place.

“Everyone has to comply. Others have done the same. I wonder why there would be an exception,” he told RFM radio.

Sonko has denied the rape charges filed against him last month by an employee at a salon where he received massages.

A 46-year-old devout Muslim, Sonko is frequently critical of Senegal’s ruling elite and is popular with young people.

He accuses Sall of conspiring to sideline him before the 2024 elections.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies