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Senegal president calls for day of mourning after unrest

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A protester waves a white flag during a protest in Dakar on March 8, 2021, after the country’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was charged with rape. – Usually considered a beacon of stability in a volatile region, deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces have rocked the West African state. (Photo by JOHN WESSELS / AFP)

President Macky Sall has declared Thursday a day of national mourning in memory of those killed in recent unrest sparked by the arrest of a rival politician accused of rape.

Sall also announced in a statement Wednesday that a health emergency declaration due to the coronavirus pandemic would be lifted at midnight on March 19.

The declaration had led to restrictions, including a curfew in the capital Dakar — measures which added to frustrations highlighted in recent protests.

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Senegal has recorded more than 36,000 Covid-19 cases and 935 deaths.

At least five people were killed in recent clashes between opposition supporters and security forces sparked by the March 3 arrest of Ousmane Sonko, a government critic popular with the country’s youth.

The violence, which the opposition says claimed 11 lives, came as a shock in a country often seen as a haven of stability in an otherwise volatile region.

Tensions only began to ease on Monday after a court freed Sonko from detention.

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The 46-year-old was nonetheless also charged with rape, in a case which he claims was part of an effort to smear him.

An opposition collective that includes Sonko’s Pastef party has called for a day of mourning on Friday, urging people to wear white to commemorate protesters who had died.

The collective known as the Movement for Defence of Democracy, or M2D, has also urged supporters to gather for a peaceful demonstration in Dakar the following day to press for the release of what it described as political prisoners.

Sonko came third in 2019’s presidential election and is considered a contender for the 2024 vote.

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Macky SallSenegal
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