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Rallies Wrap Up Before Sunday's Senegal Election


Rallies have ended in Senegal ahead of the presidential election on Sunday. Broken alliances, accusations and street fights have marked an election campaign in which octogenarian President Abdoulaye Wade faces 14 rivals. The campaign also highlighted the important role religious leaders play in Senegal's politics. From Dakar, Naomi Schwarz has this report for VOA on the last day of campaigning.

Supporters of President Wade chanted not his name, but that of the spiritual leader of the Muslim Mouride brotherhood. One Wade supporter says his allegiance to the president stems in large part from his strong connection to the Mourides.

"We support Wade for many reasons. First, he is a Mouride. He believes in Cheikh Amadou Bamba, our spiritual leader," he said.

The Mourides are a Sufi Muslim brotherhood founded in Senegal in the early 1900s. Millions of Senegalese claim allegiance to them.

Several days ago, supporters of Mr. Wade were accused of disrupting a rally for a former protégé of the president, Idrissa Seck, who is now a rival for the presidency.

Seck's campaign team blamed the attack on followers of Cheikh Bethio Thioune, a Mouride leader who on Friday sat on center stage at Mr. Wade's rally. Thioune denied any involvement in the violence at the Seck rally, but did not shy away from saying he was strongly in favor of Mr. Wade.

A spokesman for the president, Abdou Aziz Sow, says Mr. Wade is not relying on the Mourides for re-election.

Sow says President Wade was elected in 2000 with the support of all the Senegalese people, including Christians, Animists, and Muslims of all the brotherhoods.

Senegal is more than ninety percent Muslim, but has always prided itself on religious tolerance.

The country is also cited as a model democracy in West Africa. International observers were impressed in 2000 when then-President Abdou Diouf, a member of the Socialist Party that had ruled since independence, stepped aside peacefully after losing the election to Mr. Wade.

Babou Biram Faye, spokesman for current Socialist Party candidate Ousmane Tanor Dieng, says that this year, the Socialists expect the reverse to happen.

Faye says Tanor is the president's main rival in Sunday's election, although local journalists have tended to focus on the rivalry between Mr. Wade and Seck, who was jailed last year as part of a corruption probe.

Faye says the Socialist Party reflects the will of the Senegalese people.

He says Socialists remain the majority party, as they were in the past. He adds that in 2000, the Socialists lost to a coalition of parties and not to any single party.

On Friday, supporters across the city, like these at Mr. Wade's rally, cheered for their candidates. There are 15 contenders for the presidency in Sunday's election.

If no one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff is scheduled to take place between the top two finishers on March 11.

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