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Unrest in Senegal as police clash with opposition supporters

Widely supported by Senegalese youth, Ousmane Sonko is facing a civil libel case brought against him by the Senegalese tourism minister for alleged defamation and public insults.

Police and protesters clashed in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Thursday over a trial involving opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who enjoys widespread support among many young people in the West African country.

Law enforcement officers fired tear gas at hundreds of Sonko supporters as they trailed vehicles that brought him to court over the resumption of a civil libel suit against him by the Senegalese tourism minister for alleged defamation and public insults.

Protesters burned tires in the street and threw stones at police. According to the reporters, a large supermarket has been set on fire.

Sonko, 48, is also accused of raping a beauty salon employee in 2021 and making death threats against her. He denies any wrongdoing and says the allegations are politically motivated. No date has been set for the trial.

Thursday’s clashes are the latest unrest in Senegal, where presidential elections will be held in February next year. The country has long been seen as a bulwark of stability and democracy in a troubled region, a reputation shaken by deadly violence over the past two years.

Much of the anger has been directed at President Macky Sall, whose failure to rule out a third term in office has angered many. Senegal’s constitution only allows for two terms, but some fear Sall will use a recent constitutional amendment to reset his mandate, a tactic used by other rulers to expand power in the region.

His government is also accused of imprisoning dissidents and members of the opposition.

But many Senegalese young people are also attracted to Sonko because of the high unemployment and economic hardship.

This has led to sporadic and sometimes violent protests. Cries of “Macky Sall is a dictator” rang out in Dakar during a protest in July 2022.

Tensions flared before Sonko appeared in court this week, with three days of protest. More than 10,000 supporters gathered on a pitch in Dakar on Tuesday to cheer on Sonko, who hopes to become president in February. The former tax inspector came in third in the 2019 polls – the youngest candidate in that election.

Sonko supporters accuse Sall of trying to eliminate him from the league with a guilty verdict.