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Senegal protests: More clashes erupt as death toll rises

June 4, 2023

Clashes between supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and the police have killed at least 15 people. The violence erupted after he was sentenced to two years in prison.

A demonstrator stand in the middle of a street during clashes with riot policemen at a neighborhood in Dakar
Crowds of protesters in face covers set tires and debris on fire, squaring up to police in various districtsImage: Leo Correa/AP/picture alliance

Senegalese government officials said on Saturday that the death toll from clashes between police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko had risen to 15. 

Two members of the security forces were among those killed in some of the deadliest protests in the western African nation in recent decades.

The violence first broke out on Thursday after a court sentenced Sonko to two years in prison for "corrupting youth." However, he was acquitted on charges of sexually assaulting a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her.

Sonko's lawyer said a warrant hadn't yet been issued for his arrest. 

Senegal: Leading opposition politician sentenced to prison

What is the situation in Dakar? 

Senegal's capital has been rocked by protests and clashes since Thursday. 

On Saturday, the city appeared calmer than in recent days, although clashes continued into the
evening as protesters took to the streets.

Demonstrators in residential neighborhoods threw rocks at police, barricaded roads and set tires on fire.

Smoke rises as tires are set on fire in a street in Dakar
Sonko's supporters set tires on fire in the capital's streetsImage: Annika Hammerschlag/AA/picture alliance

Police fired tear gas at protesters in some areas, and some were arrested. 

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Saturday's clashes. The latest figures on the death toll came after six people were killed on Friday.

Interior Minister Felix Abdoulaye Diome said that gas stations and a supermarket were looted overnight on Friday and several districts were strewn with rubble and burned tires.

"There has been a clear intention to disrupt the normal working of our economic activity. The choice of targets is not accidental," Diome told journalists late on Saturday. Still, Diome described the situation as under control.

The government had shut down on Friday access to Whatsapp, Messenger and Telegram in a bid to restrict protesters' communication. 

Who is Ousmane Sonko?

The leading opposition politician is considered President Macky Sall's main competitor in the 2024 presidential election, although the latter has not confirmed or denied seeking reelection

Sonko's supporters accuse the government of trying to derail his candidacy with the latest legal challenge. 

Ousmane Sonko
Sonko came third in Senegal's 2019 presidential electionImage: Fatma Esma Arslan/AA/picture alliance

He was earlier handed a six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation after accusing Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang of embezzlement on television last year.

Accusations against Sonko have long triggered protests. His arrest in 2021 on rape charges prompted clashes that left 14 people dead, according to human rights organization Amnesty International.

According to Interior Minister Diome, over 500 people have been detained since the long-running protests first kicked off in 2021.

Sonko hasn't appeared in public since Thursday's verdict. But his PASTEF-Patriots party called on his supporters to "amplify and intensify the constitutional resistance" until Sall leaves office.

fb/sri (AP, dpa, Reuters)