DAKAR, Senegal (AP) – The number of people killed in days-long clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has now risen to 15, including two security officers, the government said on Saturday.
Clashes continued in parts of the city on Friday evening. Demonstrators threw stones, set cars on fire and damaged supermarkets while police used tear gas and the government deployed the military with tanks.
Sonko was convicted on Thursday of youth bribery but acquitted of raping and making death threats against a woman who worked at a massage parlour. Sonko, who did not attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said no arrest warrant had been issued for him.
Sonko finished third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and is popular with the country’s youth. His supporters claim his legal troubles are part of the government’s effort to quash his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election.
Sonko is considered President Macky Sall’s main rival and has urged Sall to state publicly that he is not seeking a third term.
Political cartoons about world leaders
The international community has called on the Senegalese government to ease tensions. France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said it was “extremely concerned by the violence” and called for a solution to this crisis in line with Senegal’s long democratic tradition.
Human rights groups have condemned the government’s crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media. Some social media sites used by protesters to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, were blocked for almost two days.
Senegalese blame the government for the violence and loss of life.
One woman, Seynabou Diop, told the Associated Press on Saturday that her 21-year-old son Khadim was shot in the chest during the protests.
“I feel deep pain. What happens is tough. Our children are dying. I never thought I would have to go through this,” she said.
This was the first time her son, a disciplined and kind mechanic, had joined the protests and stormed out of the house as soon as he heard Sonko had been sentenced, she said.
“I think Macky Sall is to blame. If he had spoken to the Senegalese people, especially young people, maybe we wouldn’t have all these problems,” Diop said. The Associated Press cannot confirm the cause of death. The family said an autopsy is in progress.
Corruption by young people, which includes using one’s position of power to have sex with people under the age of 21, is a criminal offense in Senegal and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to US$6,000.
Under Senegalese law, Sonko’s conviction would bar him from running in next year’s elections, said Bamba Cisse, another defender. However, the government said Sonko could apply for a retrial after his incarceration. It was unclear when he would be taken into custody.
If the violence continues, it could endanger the country’s institutions, analysts say.
“Never would the Senegalese, in their worst nightmare forms, have considered witnessing the prevailing forms of apocalyptic and irrational violence,” said Alioune Tine, founder of the Afrikajom Center, a West African think tank.
“The most commonly shared feelings about the current situation are fear, stress, exhaustion and helplessness. That is why people are now striving for peace,” he said.
The West African country is considered a bastion of democratic stability in the region.
Nothing has been heard or seen from Sonko since the verdict was announced. In a statement on Friday, his PASTEF-Patriots party urged the Senegalese to “strengthen and intensify 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 that the protesters themselves posed a threat to democracy.
“These calls (to protest) are a bit similar to the anti-republican nature of all these movements that hide behind social networks and don’t believe in the fundamentals of democracy, which are elections, free speech, but also the resources they offer.” (Legal) system offers,” said Fofana.
Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.