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W.African court deals blow to Senegal opposition leader

By Malick Rokhy BA and Laurie Churchman in Abuja
Senegal Senegal's opposition figure Ousmane SonkoC says the court cases against him are part of a plot to torpedo his political career.  By MUHAMADOU BITTAYE AFPFile
NOV 17, 2023 LISTEN
Senegal's opposition figure Ousmane Sonko(C) says the court cases against him are part of a plot to torpedo his political career. By MUHAMADOU BITTAYE (AFP/File)

A West African regional court on Friday dealt a severe blow to detained Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko's chances at running for president, with his political fate now resting with Senegal's Supreme Court.

In the latest twist of a long-running legal battle, the Economic Community of West African States court in Nigeria's capital Abuja said the "state of Senegal did not violate any of (Sonko's) rights."

Lawyers for Sonko -- who came third in the 2019 presidential election -- took his case to the ECOWAS court in order to challenge his removal from the electoral lists following his conviction in June.

The delisting made the 49-year-old firebrand politician ineligible to stand in Senegal's February 2024 presidential election.

The West African court ruling comes on the same day that Senegal's Supreme Court is due to rule on whether to reinstate Sonko on the electoral roll.

It is widely considered to be Sonko's last chance to contest the election.

"The ECOWAS Court of Justice gives (Senegalese President) Macky Sall the go-ahead to destroy his opponent," Juan Branco, one of Sonko's lawyers, said on social media.

The hearing in Senegal's capital Dakar opened early Friday under a heavy police presence, an AFP journalist saw.

Lawyers from both camps as well as opposition activists were present in the courtroom as the hearing continued around midday.

Call to 'resist'

Sonko, a political thorn in Sall's side, has faced a series of legal woes over the past two and a half years.

His conviction in a moral corruption case in June triggered the deadliest clashes the West African nation had seen in years.

He and his lawyers say the court cases are part of a plot to torpedo his political career.

He is popular among the under-20-year-olds, who make up half the population, for his pan-Africanist rhetoric and tough stance on former colonial power, France.

Late on Thursday, Sonko called on people in the country to "resist", claiming the "nation's destiny" was at stake.

"We must stand up for fair, free and independent justice, for the right to live in a country without fear of being arrested and imprisoned without justification," he declared on social media.

Dakar remained calm on Friday morning.

The interior ministry has refused to issue Sonko the necessary sponsorship forms for his candidacy.

Sonko was on June 1 convicted in absentia of morally corrupting a young person and sentenced to two years in prison.

He was arrested in late July and detained on other charges, including fomenting insurrection, criminally associating with a terrorist body and endangering state security.

He has periodically been on hunger strike since then.

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