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Three dead in Senegal clashes over opposition leader

Three dead in Senegal clashes over opposition leader

Burned buses are seen parked in a lot for out of service vehicles, after being set on fire, during protests, last night in Keur Massar, Dakar region, Senegal, on May 16, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

Three people died during clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, the authorities said on Tuesday, amid flaring tensions triggered by a legal showdown.

Two young people were found dead overnight in the capital Dakar and southern city of Ziguinchor, where a policeman died on Monday after being accidentally crushed by an armoured anti-riot vehicle, the interior ministry said.

Crowds in Ziguinchor, where Mr. Sonko is mayor, on Monday hurled stones at police who responded with tear gas, according to an AFP correspondent there.

In Dakar, around 20 vehicles at a depot belonging to the national bus company were torched, and the local press said two stores belonging to the French supermarket chain Auchan, which has been frequently targeted in disturbances, were also attacked.

The violence erupted on the eve of a scheduled court appearance by Mr. Sonko, who is facing trial for the alleged rape of an employee at a beauty salon where he went for a massage.

Young demonstrators in Ziguinchor on Tuesday blocked off the streets leading to his home, some of them holding rocks or wielding steel bars, to prevent the authorities from taking him.

Mr. Sonko’s trial opened meanwhile in Dakar, more than 400 kilometres (250 miles) to the north, and was immediately adjourned until May 23 after he failed to show.

His accuser Adji Sarr, a woman in her twenties, and Mr. Sonko’s co-accused, Ndeye Khady Ndiaye, who owns the massage parlour where the alleged rape took place, were both present.

“I feel fine. I have confidence. We are going to win. It’s a pity that after waiting two years for a trial, he (Sonko) has fled,” Ms. Sarr said, speaking before proceedings opened.

Mr. Sonko, 48, who was also recently sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and insults against the tourism minister, has denied the charge.

Mr. Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, came in third in the 2019 presidential elections.

He says the legal cases against him are a plot aimed at barring him from contesting the 2024 vote.

Senegal is traditionally a beacon of stability in troubled West Africa, but in recent years has been buffeted by turbulence that has at times turned deadly.

When Mr. Sonko was arrested in 2021, several days of protests left at least 12 people dead.

The interior ministry on Tuesday did not directly attribute the latest death of the two young people to the protests, but said it “strongly urges parents to prevent their children from taking part in violent demonstrations.”

These events are liable to “attacks, theft, looting and other acts of vandalism,” it said.

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