Police fired tear gas in Senegal’s capital to disperse protesting supporters of the country’s main opposition leader, who appeared in court for the first time on Friday since his arrest two days ago sparked days of violent demonstrations in which they died. at least four.
This week’s riots in Dakar have been the worst in years in a country known for its stability. Thousands have also protested across the country.
Police mobilized to disperse crowds by throwing objects at security forces and setting tires, pieces of wood and other objects on fire near the court where opposition leader Ousmane Sonko appeared.
Columns of black smoke billowed into the sky as armored vehicles roamed the streets, which were briefly cleared for Friday afternoon prayers. The protesters reappeared after prayers to be confronted by the authorities throwing tear gas canisters.
One person died Thursday when police clashed with protesters in the town of Bignona, in the southern Casamance region, according to local leaders. A second person died in the Pikine area of Dakar on Thursday, according to the Tfm radio station and a third in the Keur Massar suburb of Dakar on the same day.
Senegal’s Interior Minister, Antoine Felix Diom, announced on Friday the death of a fourth protester in the capital after clashes between youth and defense and security forces. He spoke out against the looting and said the government would ease curfews imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic as the vaccination campaign continues.
The demonstrations began on Wednesday before Sonko appeared in court for questioning on rape allegations. He was detained on the way to court and arrested for disturbing public order after hundreds of his supporters clashed with police blocking unauthorized protests.
His lawyer said Friday that he is now charged with rape and death threats. They said the judge has also started new procedures to prosecute him for calling an insurgency. He will appear in court again on Monday.
The protests have intensified since Sonko’s arrest. Several stores belonging to a major supermarket chain, Auchan, have been looted and set on fire. Total’s gas stations were also targeted by what appeared to be attacks on companies with French interests. The protesters also attacked Rfm and the government newspaper Le Soleil.
The government has condemned the violence and said that “the instigators, perpetrators and accomplices” will be prosecuted. Authorities suspended two private television stations for 72 hours, accusing Sen TV and Walf TV of inciting public disorder by showing content that “explicitly or implicitly defended violence.”
NetBlocks, which monitors the internet, said messaging and social media apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube, were restricted on Friday.
‘Politically motivated’ positions
Sonko, 46, who ranked third in the 2019 election, was charged with rape last month by a salon employee. He was summoned for questioning after his parliamentary immunity was lifted last week.
Sonko has been a strong opponent of President Macky Sall since 2012 and is popular with the country’s youth. Sonko and his supporters have said the charges are politically motivated and accuse Sall of conspiring to undermine Sonko before the 2024 election.
Amnesty International condemned what it called arbitrary arrests of opponents and activists and called on the authorities to “respect the freedom of peaceful assembly”. He accused authorities of stopping Sonko’s convoy and firing tear gas to disperse his supporters.
The human rights group also called for charges for public disturbances and unauthorized demonstrations against Sonko to be dropped and for him to be released if these are the only charges that justify his detention.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said he “deplores the acts of violence” and called for restraint. He urged the authorities to guarantee the rights of the protesters to demonstrate peacefully, as well as their safety.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism