Senegal opposition calls fresh protest after deadly riots

AFP , Monday 20 Feb 2012

Protests against Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy to continue after 6 people die in clashes between protesters and police

Anti-government protesters use pieces of corrugated metal as shields as they throw rocks at police, on a central boulevard in Dakar, Senegal, Sunday, (Photo: AP).

Senegal's opposition called for a new protest Monday, prompting fears of fresh violence days before polls in which President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term has upset the normally stable nation.

Tensions are running high just six days before elections in the west African nation, a former French colony known for being one of the continent's pioneer democracies which has never suffered a coup or conflict.

Senegal put "to fire and sword" headlined two daily newspapers after fresh riots erupted on Sunday, in which another person was killed, bringing to six the number of dead since protests first began in late January.

The opposition June 23 Movement (M23) planned to continue heaping pressure on Wade, 85, to step down ahead of February 26 polls.

"We call for a protest at 3:00 pm (1500GMT) at Independence Square," said M23 coordinator Alioune Tine.

The green square in the heart of the downtown suburb of Plateau, with a grubby fountain which has not spouted water in years, is a few blocks away from the presidential palace and has been fiercely protected by police.

Last week approaching protesters clashed with security forces in the sidestreets as they attempted to defy a ban to rally there.

During street battles, police on Friday fired tear gas into a mosque belonging to the country's biggest Islamic brotherhood, the Tidianes, prompting fury among the faithful and fresh clashes on Sunday.

A peaceful gathering degenerated into an hours-long tense stand-off with police as angry youths belted riot police with rocks and set fires in main streets.

Security forces riposted with rubber bullets and volleys of potent invisible teargas.

The violence spread through suburbs of the seaside capital and other main cities and left one dead in the suburb of Rufisque, a religious leader was quoted Monday as saying by the state news agency APS.

"The victim was not demonstrating, he had gone to the bakery to buy bread," Abdoul Aziz Ndoye, a Muslim cleric and the young man's tutor, said. It was the second death in a weekend of violence ahead of presidential elections.

"I cannot understand any justification for such an act," the imam said, adding that he had agreed with the victim's family that legal proceedings would be undertaken.

When contacted by AFP, the police could not confirm the man's death, which occurred on Sunday evening.

Senegal's Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom later apologised for what he described as a "police blunder", and urged politicians to hold any rallies away from mosques.

A 95 percent Muslim, but secular country, Senegal is known for its religious tolerance. Citizens follow one of four, very influential, Sufi brotherhoods.

Senegal is one of Africa's oldest democracies, whose earliest elections date back to 1848 when a representative was elected to the French chamber of deputies.

It also has Africa's second oldest president after Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, 88. However many argue Wade is several years older due to discrepancies in the way birth certificates were filled out.

Wade was first elected in 2000 to widespread euphoria as he beat the unpopular Socialist Party, however he has faced growing discontent over rising food prices, crippling power cuts and his efforts to stay in power.

This is seen as a bid to line up his son Karim Wade for succession.

Despite having served two terms in office, a limit he himself introduced, Wade says additional changes to the constitution in 2008 mean he can serve two more mandates.

Wade has brushed off opposition concerns as "temper tantrums" and derided criticism from France and the United States who have both urged him to retire.

In his campaign, Wade has swept across the country promising universities, roads, airports and massive agricultural projects to win over five million registered voters.

He will face 13 opposition contenders, including three former prime ministers, in Sunday's election.

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