Wed, 14 Apr 2021

A schoolboy has been killed during violent protests in Senegal at the weekend, bringing the death toll from days of violence in the West African state to five.

Clashes between opposition supporters and security forces began last Wednesday, following the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and have continued throughout the weekend.

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

On Saturday, people were demonstrating in the southern town of Diaobe against Sonko's arrest, when the "situation quickly deteriorated", according to a security official.

Protesters set fire to a police station, a customs post and several cars.

A schoolboy was killed and six people were seriously injured in clashes, the official added, a toll confirmed by a spokesman for Senegal's police.

Covid restrictions add to economic gloom

Senegal, a former French colony of 16 million people, is often heralded as a beacon of stability in a volatile region.

But about 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

Ndeme Dieng, an opposition member who tried to calm tempers during the demonstrations, said the vast majority of protesters were jobless youths.

Violent protests in Senegal as opposition leader summoned over rape charges

"The gloomy economic situation has made people go out into the streets and show that they're fed up," he said.

On top of economic pressures, coronavirus restrictions have also damaged livelihoods in a country where most people work in the informal sector.

Sonko denies rape allegations

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

The move came after scuffles with opposition supporters broke out while Sonko was on his way to court to answer a separate rape charge, which he says is politically motivated.

An opposition collective which includes Sonko's Pastef party on Saturday called for three more days of protests starting from Monday, urging people to "massively descend onto the streets".

"A immense wave of protest has swept across Senegal, criticising Macky Sall and his government who have openly snubbed the general public," said Ndèye Fatou Diop Blondin, a spokesperson for the M2D Democracy Defense Movement.

"We call for the release of political prisoners held arbitrarily, the return to the airwaves for Walf TV and SEN TV, and the recognition of the right to demonstrate peacefully," she said.

Uncertainty over future of Macky Sall

Sonko, who is considered a key challenger to President Macky Sall, is also due back in court on Monday to answer to the rape charge.

He is a devout Muslim popular with youngsters and came third to Sall in the 2019 election.

But his political future was suddenly clouded last month when rape charges were filed against him by an employee at a salon where, he said, he went to receive back massages.

The allegation comes amid uncertainty over whether Sall, 59, will seek a third term in office.

ECOWAS calls for calm, restraint

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States, which includes Senegal, has urged all parties in the country to exercise restraint and remain calm.

ECOWAS also called on the Dakar government "to take the necessary measures to ease tensions and guarantee the freedom to demonstrate peacefully".

Idrissa Seck, who came in second place in the presidential race and joined Sall's camp as head of the economic council warned opposition supporters of being manipulated by national or international influences who were "frustrated at not getting their hands on Senegal's gas and oil reserves, and who are trying to destabilize the country."

"I strongly encourage Ousmane Sonko to address his followers and stop their insurrection," he went on, adding that he was open to setting up a political mediation between the opposition leader and the government in order to bring back calm.

Originally published on RFI

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