Senegal: Clashes in Dakar during the trial of rival Sonko

Several districts of Dakar were the scene of guerrilla warfare between young Senegalese and police on Thursday as rival Ousmane Sonko appeared during a trial on which his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election could depend.

Mobile groups of young people threw stones at gendarmes and police in the streets adjacent to the court, where Mr Sonko was summoned to answer for defamation against Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang. An impressive security apparatus had turned the complex into a fortified camp.

AFP journalists said security forces repeatedly fired tear gas to disperse the attackers.

In the midst of this intermittent devastation, unlike many nearby businesses, a pharmacy remained open near the court.

“We are neither for nor against what is happening,” says manager Mamie Diouf, 20. “Our interest is in peace. Everyone does what he wants but one should wait for the election and then decide. Violence goes nowhere and it is not good for the people. Business”.

Clashes were reported in other localities as well. An AFP photographer saw dozens of young people pelt stones at an isolated security force vehicle which was forced to make haste and fired tear gas at a main square in the capital.

Mr Sonko’s journey to court was in itself fraught with unrest amid heavy police protection from a town on high alert. Security forces forcefully removed Mr. Sonko from his vehicle to take him to court.

Those who accompanied him say that he and others were manhandled and tear gas fired during the transfer.

Mr Sonko once on the stand explained that he wanted to choose his own path. He said, “The police and the gendarmerie impose a path on me. I was brutalised. The regime only depends on the security forces.”

Mr Sanko was examined by a doctor in court, one of a number of interruptions and incidents that marred the high-tension hearing, which after several hours had not yet addressed the merits of the case.

The trial was eventually adjourned until 30 March.

This new bout of fever is the latest episode of a psychodrama that has kept the political world in suspense for two years and which has already, already caused much trouble.

In March 2021, the questioning of Mr Sonko in an alleged rape case and his arrest on his way to court contributed to the most serious rioting in years in a country known as a rare island of stability in a troubled region. Is.

– “for youth” –

There were at least a dozen deaths.

Tensions are rising again as the 2024 presidential election approaches.

The alleged rape case, not yet tried, and the defamation case threaten Mr. Sonko’s candidacy with possible disqualification.

He and his supporters cry foul over the conspiracy hatched by the authorities to eliminate him politically.

Mr Sonko had called on his supporters to come out en masse to support him in the trial.

Senegal’s rival Ousmane Sonko talks to the press in Dakar before going to his trial in court March 16, 2023 (AFP – Guy Peterson)

The personality of Mr Sonko, 48, divides Senegalese. He maintains a sovereignist, Pan-Africanist and social discourse, which lambasts elitism and corruption.

They magnified the economic and political influence exercised by the former French colonial power and multinational companies accordingly. It is very popular among the young people in the population, more than half of whom are under the age of 20.

His critics denounce him as a populist who does not hesitate to stoke social embers and exploit the street to escape justice.

The doubts that President Macky Sall maintains about whether or not he intends to run for a third term also contribute to pitting the opposing camps against each other.

Near the court, Abdu Aini, a 53-year-old teacher, pours buckets of water on a tire fire that, after a struggle, released heavy black smoke at the roundabout. He says he is with the protesters, but intervenes because there is a child care center next door.

“I’m not for Ousmane Sanko. I’m for the youth. All of them (young people) want to stop this project”, Mr Sall’s bid for a third term. “No one agrees. We are ready to give up our lives,” he says calmly.


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