Senegal opposition leader calls for protests after nomination rally banned
Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko called for a peaceful protest on Saturday after authorities blocked a planned rally to publicly confirm his nomination as a candidate in upcoming presidential elections.
Sonko on Thursday “was unanimously voted in as the PASTEF-Patriots’ candidate for the February 25, 2024 presidential elections,” the party said in a statement given to AFP.
Sonko’s nomination comes despite lingering questions over his eligibility due to criminal convictions and prison sentences.
On Thursday, the governor of Dakar announced that the opposition party’s nomination rally, initially scheduled for Saturday afternoon in a stadium on the outskirts of the capital, had been banned due to the “risk of disturbing public order”.
Sonko told his supporters “another date” would be chosen, and called for a “concert of saucepans, horns and firecrackers” on Saturday evening from 8:30 to 9:00 pm (2030 to 2100 GMT) to peacefully express disapproval and call for President Macky Sall “to leave office in peace”.
“Macky Sall is trying to eradicate PASTEF and prevent me from being a presidential candidate,” Sonko said in a Friday evening address in Wolof and French on his party’s channel.
Sonko, who has been confined by security forces at his home in Dakar since May 28, also urged his supporters to wear red in protest.
The firebrand opposition figurehead has generated a passionate following among Senegal’s disaffected youth, mounting a fiery campaign against Sall, who he paints as a corrupt, would-be dictator.
Sonko warned this month of “indescribable chaos” if he was prevented from running for the top office.
His convictions in May and June sparked deadly clashes between supporters and security forces, spawning the worst unrest Senegal has seen in years.
On May 8, an appeals court gave Sonko a six-month suspended term for slander, although it is unclear whether this sentence, which can also be appealed to the Supreme Court, makes him ineligible.
On June 1, Sonko was also handed a two-year term following a trial on charges of sexual abuse of a beauty salon worker.
Legal analysts and Sonko’s own lawyers say this conviction rules him out from being a candidate.
But Sonko insisted on Friday that despite the legal proceedings he remains eligible for the 2024 poll.
PASTEF on Friday said Sonko “enjoys his political and civil rights in their entirety”.
“No-one can prevent Ousmane Sonko from being invested as (party) president or from taking part in the presidential elections,” it said.
Tensions that flared after Sonko’s conviction last month were also fuelled by expectations that Sall would raise his hand for the elections, in defiance of constitutional limits.
Sall is close to finishing his second presidential term, but his supporters argue that a 2016 revision of the charter reset the term clock.
But Sall wrong-footed both critics and supporters by announcing on July 3 that he would not be running again next year.
Meanwhile, Senegalese prosecutors on Friday said they had filed an international arrest warrant against one of Sonko’s lawyers, French national Juan Branco, for “crimes and offences” that it said were connected with last month’s unrest.
On June 22, Branco said he had filed a criminal complaint against Sall in France for “crimes against humanity” and had requested a probe by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
His initiatives also named Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome and gendarmerie chief General Moussa Fall among more than 100 other accused.
The move sparked Senegal’s ire, with Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall lashing it as “childish and puerile” and falling far short of the benchmark needed for legal scrutiny.
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