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Senegal braces for fresh protests ahead of opposition leader's trial

By RFI
Senegal AFP - GUY PETERSON
WED, 29 MAR 2023 LISTEN
AFP - GUY PETERSON

Senegal's opposition coalition maintained its call for demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday during leader Ousmane Sonko's defamation trial despite a ban on protests by police authorities.

The Yewwi Askan Wi (Liberate the People) coalition has denounced what it says are arbitrary arrests following recent clashes connected with Sonko's trial.

It has urged its supporters to turn out in the capital Dakar ahead of a summons for Sonko to appear in the High Court for a hearing on 30 March.

However the protests were banned amid fears they would pose to public order and to impede the "free movement of persons and goods".

Ongoing unrest

Violence has flared in several cities since Sonko's defamation trial opened on 16 March.

A fierce opponent of President Macky Sall, Sonko was hospitalised for five days after he was allegedly sprayed with "a toxic substance" and manhandled while authorities escorted him to the courthouse.

Last week Sall asked the government to take measures to preserve public order after protests over the trial left at least one person dead.

Sonko is being sued by Senegal's Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for "defamation, insult and forgery" in relation to comments made during a news conference late last year.

Sonko faces separate charges of allegedly raping a masseuse in 2021. The case sparked violence that left about a dozen people dead.

Convictions in either case could potentially prevent Sonko from running in the February 2024 presidential elections.

Sonko and his supporters accuse the government of using justice to prevent him from running for president.

Much of the anger around Sonko's trial is targeted towards Sall, who has not ruled outrunning for a third term in office, which would involve changing the constitution.

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