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Senegalese Opposition Cancels Protest, Citing Religious Leaders' Objections

Senegalese opposition parties cancelled a protest march Friday, three weeks ahead of a presidential election. Organizers cited a call by local Catholic leaders' not to march, following the violent outcome of a similar protest last week. For VOA, Jordan Davis reports from Dakar.

In spite of a government ban, the opposition coalition had organized the march to call for elections to go forward as scheduled on February 25.

Following the recent delay of legislative elections, many newspapers carried reports saying the government might consider putting off a presidential vote as well.

Protest organizers say pressure from the country's religious leaders convinced them to drop their demonstration plans. They also say they received new assurances from the government that elections would go forward as scheduled.

Reacting to the decision to call off the march, Catholic Archbishop Theodore Sarr told state radio that it was "good news." He also thanked opposition leaders for contributing to an atmosphere of peace ahead of elections.

Senegal is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. But Catholic leaders still command wide respect. In recent weeks, church officials have urged the ruling party and opposition to maintain their commitments to holding free and fair elections.

Last week, police fired tear gas and briefly arrested several opposition leaders when protesters took to the streets without permits.

Senegal's interior minister, Ousmane Ngom, said he banned the protests because they were politically motivated. He said election demonstrations would have to wait until the beginning of the official election campaign Sunday.

President Abdoulaye Wade is seeking a second term in the February 25 vote.

The 80-year-old Mr. Wade faces a field of 14 challengers, including his former political ally and prime minister, Idrissa Seck.