Senegal opposition leader arrested as supporters clash with police

COOPER INVEEN and NGOUNDA DIONE

Ousmane Sonko. Picture: Senflash/flickr 

SENEGAL’S main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, was arrested yesterday after hundreds of his supporters clashed with police in the capital while protesting a rape accusation against him.

An employee at a beauty salon accused Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, of rape last month and he was summoned for questioning after his parliamentary immunity was removed last week.

Sonko, a 46-year-old former tax inspector who enjoys significant support among younger Senegalese, has denied the allegation and accuses President Macky Sall’s government of stirring up the charge to undermine his strongest rival.

Near his house on Wednesday, Sonko’s supporters burned tyres and threw rocks at riot police, who responded by firing tear gas. A Reuters reporter saw two protesters who were injured, including one bleeding from the head.

“We are ready to die for Sonko!” some chanted.

Amid the melee, Sonko, who was in a convoy headed for a courthouse in downtown Dakar to respond to questioning about the rape allegation, was arrested by the police.

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His lawyer, Bamba Cisse, said he was accused of disturbing public order and participating in a banned demonstration.

President Macky Sall

“They want to catch him in the act, judge him and convict him in order to get him off the electoral rolls,” Cisse told Reuters. “The first accusation of rape wasn’t working so they have now found something else.”

The police were not immediately available for comment.

Other top rivals of Sall have been targeted by criminal charges in the past, including former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade. As a result, neither was able to run for president in 2019.

Sall, 59, denies there has been any political interference in the cases. In power since 2012 and reelected in 2019, he has not commented on reports that he might seek a third term in 2024.

Sall’s opponents say running for a third term would violate the constitution.

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