At least 15 people have been killed in Senegal as supporters of the opposition leader clash with police
Dakar, Senegal – The government said on Saturday that the death toll in days of clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has now risen to 15, including two security officers.
Clashes continued in pockets of the city on Friday evening, with demonstrators throwing stones, burning cars and damaging supermarkets, while police fired tear gas and the government deployed army in tanks.
Sonko was found guilty Thursday of corrupting youth but acquitted of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her. Sonko, who did not attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said that an arrest warrant has not yet been issued.
Sonko came third in the 2019 Senegalese presidential election election It is popular with the country’s youth. His supporters insist his legal troubles are part of a government effort to block his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.
Sonko is President Macky Sall’s main competition and has urged Sall to state publicly that he will not seek a third term in office.
The international community called on the government of Senegal to resolve the tensions. France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said it was “deeply concerned about the violence” and called for a solution to the crisis in line with Senegal’s democratic traditions.
Rights groups have condemned the government’s crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media. Some of the social media sites protesters have been using to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, have been suspended for about two days.
Senegalese blame the government for the violence and loss of life.
A woman, Sinabou Diop, told the Associated Press on Saturday that her 21-year-old son, Khadem, was killed in the protests by a shot in the chest.
“I am in deep pain. What is happening is difficult. Our children are dying. I never thought I would have to go through this,” she said.
It was the first time her son, a disciplined and gentle mechanic, had joined the protests, rushing out of the house as soon as he heard Sonko had been convicted, she said.
“I think Macky Sall is responsible. If he had spoken to the Senegalese, especially the young people, we might not have had all these problems,” Diop said. The Associated Press could not verify the cause of death. The family said an autopsy is underway.
Corruption of youth, which includes using power to have sex with people under the age of 21, is a criminal offense in Senegal, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.
Bamba Cisse, another defense lawyer, said that under Senegalese law, Sonko’s conviction would prevent him from running in next year’s elections. However, the government said Sonko could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned. It was not clear when he was detained.
Analysts say that if the violence continues, it could threaten the country’s institutions.
“Never in their worst nightmare would the Senegalese think of witnessing prevalent forms of horrific and irrational violence,” said Alioune Taine, founder of Africagom, a West African think tank.
The most common feelings about the current situation are fear, stress, exhaustion, and helplessness. So what people are looking for now is peace.
The West African country is seen as a bastion of democratic stability in the region.
Sonko has not been heard from or seen since the verdict. In a statement on Friday, his party, the Pasteur Patriots, called on Senegalese to “amplify and intensify constitutional resistance” until President Sall leaves office.
Government spokesman Abdu Karim Fofana said the damage caused by months-long demonstrations had cost the country millions of dollars. He said the protesters themselves are a threat to democracy.
“These calls (to protest) are somewhat similar to the anti-republican nature of all these movements that hide behind social networks and do not believe in the foundations of democracy, which are elections and freedom of expression, but also the resources that our (legal) system offers,” said Fofana.