Police fired tear gas and demonstrators burned cars Monday near the home of Senegal’s main opposition leader, as tensions rise in the capital days before a court verdict is expected on charges against the politician.
Ousmane Sonko is being tried for rape and death threats against a woman working at a massage parlour, and could face up to 10 years in prison. If convicted, he would be barred from running in next year’s presidential elections.
Mr Sonko and his supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy.
The clashes came a day after police stopped Sonko’s “freedom caravan,” traveling from his hometown of Ziguinchor, in the south and where he is the mayor, to the capital, Dakar, where he was forced into a home he has in the city.
The interior minister, Antoine Felix Diome, said Sonko had not been arrested but was caught breaking the law — partaking in an unauthorized caravan — and taken home.
Mr Sonko supporters were denied access to his house on Monday and threw stones at police blockading the roads.
Several vehicles were burned with pockets of clashes throughout the city.
Demonstrations have already turned violent in the lead-up to the trial. Last week one person was killed and others injured when clashes erupted between police and Sonko supporters in the city of Kolda in the south.
Senegal’s government says it will stand firm against any attempt to disrupt public order.
Meanwhile, Sonko has called upon Senegalese to unite and come out in masses to oppose what he termed a political witch hunt by the government of President Macky Sall.
Sonko’s appeal comes amid growing tension less than a year before the presidential election, and ahead of a verdict expected on Thursday in a resounding case of alleged rape involving him.
On Monday, several Dakar neighbourhoods were the scene of clashes between young Sonko supporters and the police. No casualties were reported.
Mr Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election and is popular among young people, is a declared candidate for the 2024 presidential election but is threatened with ineligibility by two court cases.
Mr Sonko is accused of rape in one o, in which a court is due to deliver its verdict on Thursday. Mr Sonko has always protested his innocence and cried that the authorities are plotting to keep him out of the presidential election.