Sonko court appearance sparks unrest in Senegal’s capital

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Authorities forcibly removed Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from his car Thursday and escorted him to a court appearance, blocking his supporters from following him and sparking unrest in parts of the capital.

Police fired tear gas in several parts of Dakar to disperse protesters on the third day of demonstrations in support of Sonko, who finished third in the last presidential election and is seen as a leading contender in next year’s vote.

Some protesters set fire to buses belonging to Senegal’s national public transport company and targeted French shops. Unrest also was reported in the city of Thies, 68 kilometers (42 miles) east of the capital, as well as in the southern towns of Ziguinchor and Bignona and in Saint-Louis in the country’s north.

Sonko maintains his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy in the 2024 election. The opposition figure has urged Sall to say publicly that he will not seek a third term in office.

“The face of Senegal is the dictatorship of Macky with police repression,” Sonko told journalists Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, a convoy of opposition supporters spent more than a hour making its way between Sonko’s home and the courthouse, where he was to appear in connection with a civil lawsuit against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for alleged defamation.

Once in court, Sonko asked to see a doctor saying he had been mishandled by police when they forced him out of his car. Judge Pape Mouhamed Diop postponed the hearing until March 30.

In a separate matter, Sonko is also facing rape charges after a female massage salon employee came forward and accused him of assault. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president. No date is set for this trial.

Thursday marks the second time in a month that Senegalese authorities have forcibly removed Sonko from his vehicle, saying his movements caused disruption. In mid-February, police smashed the window of his car so they could open the door and force him out.

In 2021, days of deadly protests erupted after Sonko was arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to the courthouse for a scheduled appearance in the rape case. At least 13 people died during the worst violence to rock Senegal in years.

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