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Senegal's Capital Returns to Uneasy Calm Following Riots

  • Nico Colombant

Senegal's capital, Dakar, has returned to an uneasy calm, after a day of destructive riots and protest marches against government policies. Despite the announcement of new government decisions, street hawkers and union leaders say their grievances remain. Minor skirmishes took place Thursday in downtown parts of the capital but were quickly broken up by police. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Dakar.

Motorbikes went through streets in which smoldering barricades and broken glass remained.

Street hawkers rioted Wednesday in several parts of Dakar to protest the dismantling of informal stalls as part of a government effort to renovate the city.

Informal markets reopened Thursday, but market sellers were angry.

A vegetable seller and mother of three, Coumba, says the military tore down the $2,000 tent she had for her own market and stole her produce during a security operation at two in the morning.

She says she thinks her tent was quite pretty. Now her vegetables are dirty, she says, with all the dust that swirls around.

She says she voted for President Abdoulaye Wade twice, but now wonders what he wants her to do to feed her family. She says she is not surprised so many young Senegalese try to flee to Europe.

The government says it tore down informal stalls to cut down on traffic and congestion, which it says is keeping foreign investors away. But critics say delayed construction to repair and widen roads is the main cause of traffic jams.

In a decision announced late Wednesday, the government said it would open two downtown streets to informal vendors on weekends and also start licensing ambulatory vendors.

Wednesday's rioting coincided with a planned march by union leaders which was banned by authorities because of the ongoing violence.

March organizer Cheikh Diop says a general strike threat remains.

He says the government has 30 days to negotiate on a number of topics, mainly increasing salaries in the public sector to match the recent upsurge in prices of staple goods.

Some bus drivers have already stopped work. Top officials have said they will take pay cuts to finance a solidarity fund to, in the words of a government spokesman, reduce the suffering of vulnerable members of society.

An unemployed man who does odd jobs, Mendy, says he is tired of both politicians and union leaders.

He says all they can do is talk.

He says people are not interested in politics, but in a real, social movement that will bring about change.

A recent World Bank report says nearly all workers in Senegal are in the informal sector, and that about a third of the employable population have no jobs at all. President Wade was first elected in 2000 on a platform of change and liberal policies, ending four decades of Socialist Party rule.

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