Opposition leader's arrest turns Senegal into battleground

Web Desk
June 03, 2023

Following his party's call to defy the law, Ousmane Sonko's supporters took to the streets to protest, ignited fires and threw rocks at security forces

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Police fire tear gas at supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in Dakar, Senegal, on June 1, 2023, during unrest following his sentencing to two years in prison. — AFP

The streets of Dakar, Senegal, were littered with rubble after the violent battles between anti-government protestors and police.

While most of the city was quiet on Saturday, tensions remained high, after two days of violent upheaval in various places that cost at least 10 lives, left untold wreckage, and alarmed Senegal's neighbours and partners, CNN reported.

Following his party's call to defy the law, thousands took to the streets to protest populist opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's sentencing on Thursday. They ignited fires and threw rocks at security forces.

At least two petrol station shops in Dakar's Ouakam and Ngor districts had their windows damaged during the demonstration, while mobs looted and set a Grand Yoff Auchan supermarket on fire.

The roadways, which had been burned to a dark char, were covered in debris.

"The police couldn't do anything; there were too many of them," said resident Khadija by the Auchan, whose interior was gutted and strewn with broken shelves, mud, and trash.

"The police had to leave after several attempts to control the crowd with tear gas grenades," she added.

Moreover, shop owners opened their doors later than usual out of fear of violence, so the government called in the army to support the riot police in Ouakam.

"We are so scared because you don't know when the crowds will come, and when they come, they take your goods; they are thieves," said Abdou Ndiaye, the owner of a nearby corner shop, in his storeroom that was stacked with sacks of food and household items.

"There are people who demonstrate, but there are others who do whatever they want," he added.

The turmoil in Senegal, long seen as one of West Africa's most stable democracies, is the most recent in a string of demonstrations.

They are enraged at Sonko's legal battles, which could prohibit him from participating in the elections the following year. He claims they are politically motivated and rejects any wrongdoing, which the government denies.

The opposition is also worried that President Macky Sall will attempt to bypass the two-term limit and run once more in the elections in February.

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