DAKAR, June 2 (Reuters) – Senegal braced for a second day of unrest on Friday after a jail sentence for opposition leader Ousmane Sonko led to one of the deadliest days of violence in recent memory.
Nine people were killed in clashes between riot police and Sonko supporters on Thursday after the presidential aspirant was sentenced to two years for corrupting youth, a verdict that casts doubt on his chances of running for president next year and which the opposition says is politically motivated.
Cheikh Anta Diop University, in the capital Dakar, became the epicenter of the violence, as protesters set buses alight and threw rocks at riot police, who responded by firing tear gas.
Early on Friday, security forces patrolled Dakar’s quiet streets, which were strewn with burned tyres, rocks and broken glass and lined with damaged residences and businesses. Large groups of students were bused out of the university campus with their belongings.
Thursday’s riot was the latest bout in months of violent protests in Senegal, long considered one of West Africa’s strongest democracies, sparked by Sonko’s court case but also concerns that President Macky Sall will try to bypass the two-term limit and run again in February elections. Sall has neither confirmed nor denied this.
More unrest is anticipated on Friday. Sonko’s PASTEF party in a statement has called on citizens to “stop all activity and take to the streets”.
Sonko, 48, was accused of raping a woman who worked in a massage parlour in 2021, when she was 20, and making death threats against her.
A criminal court cleared Sonko of rape, but found him guilty of a separate offence described in the penal code as immoral behaviour towards individuals younger than 21. The woman was 20 at the time.
He denies wrongdoing.