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Violence in Senegalese capital over arrests

Police fired tear gas as they clashed with opposition supporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Wednesday, as three prominent figures were arrested.

A protester demonstrates against the arrest of Barthelemy Diaz, Ousmane Sonko and Malick Gakou in Dakar
A protester demonstrates against the arrest of Barthelemy Diaz, Ousmane Sonko and Malick Gakou in Dakar

The opposition camp announced that Ousmane Sonko, one of the main candidates ahead of the 2024 presidential election was among those arrested, as well as Barthelemy Dias, who plans to stand for Dakar mayor in January.

Former minister Elhadji Malick Gakou was also arrested

Their lawyers and a Sonko spokesman said later that all three were released from custody in the early evening, but that was too late to prevent scenes of violence in the capital’s streets, with law enforcement officers clashing with opposition supporters.

The events unfurled after hundreds of followers escorted Dias as he headed in a motorcade to the appeals court in Dakar for a hearing involving his conviction over a fatal shooting.

Police responded with tear gas after protesters began hurling stones.

Before the three opposition figures were released, Khalifa Sall, former mayor of Dakar, called on “Senegalese men, women and children to stand up to strengthen and protect our democracy,”

“I invite our comrades to fight and mobilise,” he said.

– Political tensions –

Dias had been handed a two-year sentence, of which 18 months were suspended, after a man was shot dead in 2011 when the district’s town hall was attacked — an episode seen in the context of political tensions. He hopes to run for Dakar mayor in January.

Dias’ appearance at the appeal court on Wednesday had been widely feared in Dakar.

In March, Dakar was shaken by several days of clashes and looting after Sonko, who has declared a bid for the presidency in 2024, was summoned to court to answer charges of rape — a case that he said was politically motivated.

At least 12 people were killed nationwide, a toll that shocked a country considered a beacon of stability in West Africa.

Dias, ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, accused the authorities of plotting to sabotage his run for city mayor next January.

Hundreds of police in anti-riot gear were deployed around the building and on the roads leading to it.

The court proceedings went ahead in Dias’s absence, but were swiftly adjourned in response to a request from a fellow defendant who said his lawyer was not present. AFP