Africa

Senegal unrest: Opposition leader expected in court as country braces for more protests

  • Senegal
    opposition leader Ousmane Sonko is expected to appear in court and his supporters
    were urged to take to the streets again.
  • Protests
    were sparked last Wednesday, when Sonko was arrested on charges of disturbing
    public order, as well as a separate rape charge.
  • Sonko,
    a fierce critic of the governing elite, insists the charges are politically
    motivated.

Dakar
– Detained Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko will appear in court on Monday,
with his supporters urged to “massively descend onto the streets” for
a new round of protests against his arrest.

Five
people, including a schoolboy, have been killed in days of clashes sparked by
the arrest – the worst violence in years in a country usually seen as a beacon
of stability in a volatile region.

Sonko
is due before the court in Dakar to answer questions about a rape charge, which
he says is politically motivated.

Schools
in the capital have been ordered closed for a week, as the political opposition
has called for three more days of protests beginning Monday.

The
unrest has alarmed the United Nations and Senegal’s neighbours, who have
appealed for all sides to show restraint, and President Macky Sall – yet to
publicly address the situation – is facing mounting pressure to speak out.

‘Significant concerns’

Sonko,
46, a fierce critic of the governing elite in Senegal, was arrested on
Wednesday on charges of disturbing public order.

Scuffles
between opposition supporters and security forces had broken out while Sonko
was on his way to court in Dakar to answer the separate rape charge.

People
torched cars, looted shops and hurled stones at police during the protests,
which have highlighted longstanding grievances over living standards and
economic exclusion in the West African state.

Police officers block a road during clashes with p

Senegal police officers block a road during clashes with protesters in Dakar on 5 March 2021.

Clashed
had abated by Saturday, but the call from the opposition to take to the streets
again has led to concerns the violence could escalate.

Ahead
of the new protests, 19 foreign embassies in Dakar – including those of the
United States, the European Union and France – issued a joint statement on
Sunday urging non-violence and dialogue.

The
15-nation Economic Community of West African States also called for a peaceful
solution to tensions, noting that it had “significant concerns”.



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