In a similar chain of events like the ones in the pre-election violence in Uganda early this year, at least four people have been killed in violent clashes in Senegal over the past few days between police and supporters of detained opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, the interior minister said on Friday.
“The government regrets the loss of four lives” in events “that are rooted in banditry and insurrection,” Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said on television. He accused Sonko of “issuing calls to violence.”
The leader of the Pastef Party, Sonko appeared in court on Friday to defend himself against rape charges that he claims are politically motivated.
The country ran amok as his appearance sparked renewed clashes, the latest as part of protests that have taken place on a daily basis in the West African country since Wednesday.
Internet monitor NetBlocks said social media and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Youtube had been restricted early ahead of Friday demonstrations. This, like here in Uganda, prompted citizens to download Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to circumvent social media platform blocks.
What has sparked the clashes in Senegal?
Sonko’s largely younger supporters are angry at his arrest and the court case against him.
The 46-year-old devout Muslim is considered a key potential challenger to incumbent President Macky Sall in elections in three years’ time.
Presidents in the former French colony are limited to two consecutive terms but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions he intends to run for a third term.
Critics say the rape charge against Sonko was fabricated to get him out of the way should Sall decide to change the constitution and run for a third term.
Other rivals have been targeted with criminal charges in the past, including former Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall and Karim Wade, the son of former President Abdoulaye Wade, eliminating both from the 2019 presidential race.
The latest unrest kicked off on Wednesday when Sonko traveled to court to defend the rape charge. His supporters followed him, sounding horns and singing.
Sonko was arrested before reaching the court for disturbing public order, causing clashes between police and his supporters to erupt.