Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clashes in Senegal ahead of presidential poll

Police clash with demonstrators for a fifth day of protest against the
candidacy of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade.

19 Feb 2012 Al Jazeera

Senegalese have police fired tear gas on stone-throwing demonstrators
after prayers at a mosque in the Senegalese capital in a fifrth day of
protest against the candidacy of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade in the
February 26 presidential poll.

It was the latest violence to erupt in Dakar ahead of the presidential
election being held next Sunday.

About 100 protesters converged on Saturday in a street leading to
Independence Square, which was cordoned off by riot police. Police
eventually fired tear gas and chased protesters from the area.

With their hands forming crosses above their heads, the protesters chanted
in Wolof language "Na Dem Na Dem" ("He must leave"), referring to Wade.

After they were dispersed, men in several black pickups, bearing the image
of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, started
throwing rocks at police. Police responded with a water cannon and more
tear gas.

The government has banned all opposition protest around Independence
Square citing security reasons.

The election is pitting the country's 85-year-old president against a
young opposition demanding his departure.

Opposition leaders and civil society group M-23 have vowed to make the
country ungovernable if Wade does not step down and withdraw his bid to
seek a third term, arguing that his bid breaches rules setting a two-term
presidential limit.

Deaths reported

Authorities said a 21-year-old man died in the city of Kaolack, about
190km southeast of Dakar, from wounds he suffered during a protest on

At least five people have been killed in street clashes since last month
when Wade's candidacy was validated by the
country's top legal body.

On Saturday morning, the country's 23,000-strong security force including
police and military, lined up to vote early.

European Union observers said the ballots had arrived on time and voting
proceeded calmly.

Leaders of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, meeting in Nigeria on
Friday, said they would send a joint mission with the African Union,
headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to engage
Senegalese politicians in dialogue.

"I'm counting on President Obasanjo to come and look at President Wade
eye-to-eye and tell him that at nearly 90 years old, it is time to
retire," said Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, a former foreign minister in Wade's
government who is one of the 13 candidates in the presidential poll.

2 more dead in Senegal protest, state agency

Feb. 19, 2012 Associated Press

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal's state-owned news agency has reported two
more people have been killed in protests including a demonstrator in the
regional capital of Kaolack and a young man hit by a rock in a suburb of
the capital.

It brings to six the number of people killed in three weeks of violence
before next week's contentious presidential poll. Protesters are calling
for the departure of 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade.

Sunday saw some of the most intense street battles yet, and opposition
supporters seized control of more than three blocks in downtown Dakar
outside a mosque that had been tear gassed by the police two days earlier.

Late Sunday, Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom went on television to
apologize to the population, saying he asked for forgiveness from
Senegal's Muslims calling the incident "a police blunder."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information.
AP's earlier story is below.

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Protesters demanding the departure of Senegal's
aging president on Sunday seized control of a three-block stretch in the
heart of the capital, erecting barricades and lobbing rocks at police just
days before a contentious presidential poll.

It marks the fifth day of violent protests ahead of the country's crucial
vote. President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, is insisting on running again, despite
the deepening unrest and calls from both France and the United States to
hand power to the next generation.

Sunday's clashes marked a worrying development, because they took on a
religious dimension in this normally tolerant Muslim nation. Hundreds had
gathered outside a mosque as religious leaders met to discuss a Friday
incident in which police used grenade launchers to throw tear gas down the
wide boulevard, at one point hitting the wall of the mosque.

Footage of the incident shown on Senegalese TV indicated that the police
had not shot inside the mosque, only outside where a crowd had gathered.
But the cloud of gas enveloped worshippers praying both inside and outside
the shrine, deeply offending Senegal's largest Muslim brotherhood which
owns the mosque.

On Sunday morning as the crowd outside the mosque grew larger, a truck of
riot police took a defensive position at one end of Lamine Gueye
Boulevard, and the dozens of youths erupted in jeers. They then began
grabbing cinderblocks from a nearby construction site, smashing them on
the pavement in order to make smaller projectiles which they hurled at
police. Security forces responded with waves of tear gas.

They sparred for over 1 hour and by then, the protesters succeeded in
seizing control of a three-block stretch of Lamine Gueye, one of two main
commercial avenues traversing downtown Dakar. They grabbed market tables
and pieces of plywood that had been nailed across shop windows, using them
as shields to protect themselves from the tear gas grenades.

They then lined them across the road's median, as police were momentarily
pushed back, waiting for reinforcements.

Each time the youths charged the police, they screamed, "Allah Akbar" and
"There is no God but Allah," religious phrases that are rarely heard in
his this nation that is over 90 percent Muslim but which has long embraced
a secular identity.

"I'm worried — yes. What I'm seeing here could really degenerate into
another kind of situation, a religious one," said Moustapha Faye, a young
member of the Mouride Muslim brotherhood, the second largest in Senegal,
as he stood behind the police line watching the confrontation. "We must
absolutely avoid violence."

The increasingly tense atmosphere on the ground has many concerned that
there may be worse unrest if Wade is declared the winner of next Sunday's
vote. In power for 12 years, Wade oversaw a 2001 revision to the
constitution which imposed a two-term maximum, a move that at the time was
hailed as proof of Senegal's democratic maturity. He disappointed many
when he argued that the new constitution was not retroactive and so should
not apply to him.

Senegal has seen protests every few days since January, when the country's
highest court ruled that Wade was eligible to run for a third term. Wade
has been dismissive of the opposition, characterizing their protests as
nothing more than a "light breeze which rustles the leaves of a tree, but
never becomes a hurricane."

The country is considered key to the stability of West Africa. It's the
only nation in the region and one of the only in Africa that has never
experienced a military coup.

While most African countries began experimenting with democracy
post-independence in the 1960s, Senegal's democratic traditions date to at
least the mid-1800s, when citizens in this former French colony were given
the right to elect a deputy to the French parliament. Among them was
Lamine Gueye, whose name now graces the boulevard where the youths sparred
with police and who served as a senator in France in the 1950s.


Associated Press Writers Sadibou Marone and Thomas Faye contributed to
this report.

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