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Anti-Government Rally Disturbs Normal Calm of Senegal's Capital

  • Julia Ritchey

A man watches the crowd of anti-government protesters in downtown Dakar Saturday, March 19. 2011

A man watches the crowd of anti-government protesters in downtown Dakar Saturday, March 19. 2011

Protesters staged a large anti-government rally in Senegal's capital Saturday just hours after the government said it had arrested several suspects accused of planning a coup d'etat.

Several dozen riot police stood watch over Dakar's main square as groups of mostly young men shouted and chanted their grievances against the government of President Wade.

The protest, organized by Senegalese media tycoon Sidy Lamine Niasse, marked the 11th anniversary since President Abdoulaye Wade ascended to the presidency.

Just hours before the rally, the justice minister appeared on state television saying security forces had foiled a coup plot targeting different locations in the capital and jailed several suspects.

Opposition figures denounced the arrests and many protesters called the allegations preposterous.

A taxi driver observing the protests named Mamadou says he does not believe there was any plot. He says a coup is either lead by a powerful politician or the military, but that the opposition in Senegal is far too weak for that.

Senegal prides itself as one of the most stable democratic countries in West Africa, but rising food prices, high unemployment and daily power outages in Dakar have frustrated and angered many former supporters of the president.

Some are also uneasy over President Wade's decision to stand for a third term in elections next year, when he will be 85, as well as his handing over of several important government posts to his son, Karim Wade.

Protester Mamsher Ibrahima Fall, a fisherman who works at the city's port, said he came to the rally because he is tired of rising food prices and the lack of jobs for young people. “We cannot work, we don't have nothing to do anymore, and the government is not good here. He doesn't give no work, he's just building streets. The people [are] hungry. We want another president. We don't need this president," he said.

Like many others in attendance, Fall voted for Wade 11 years ago but now thinks it is time for a change of leadership.

A retired civil service employee named Amadou Diaw agreed. Diaw says there was a lot of hope and trust when Wade came to power in 2000, but now people feel there has been a total deception.

Diaw now supports human rights activist and professor, Amsatou Sow Sidibe, who has already declared her candidacy against Wade for 2012. He says it's not because he's a feminist, but in his opinion, after three regimes lead by men, it is high time for a woman.

The United Nations and embassies sent out warnings to foreign nationals to avoid the protests in Dakar, though the rally remained relatively peaceful.

Although some government critics sought to link the protest with those in Arab countries, protester Serigne Malick said Senegal does not need a revolution. He says it would be useless for there to be a revolution like the ones in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya. The people are only asking the government to work better, work together with the people and be held more accountable.

Malick said he was impressed by the turnout, by some estimates as many as 3,000, though at times there appeared to be more onlookers than participants.

Later in the day, some protesters migrated to Place de l'Obelisque for another demonstration organized by opposition groups, artists and students.