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More Election Protests Expected in Senegal

  • Jane Labous

Anti-government protesters run from tear gas in Dakar on January 27, 2012.

Anti-government protesters run from tear gas in Dakar on January 27, 2012.

Senegal is tense Tuesday with more election-related protests as the opposition continues pressing for President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, to abandon his plans to run for a third term on February 26.

The M23 group of opposition and civic organizations is not relenting in its call for president Wade to withdraw from elections, despite a Constitutional Court ruling this weekend that Abdoulaye Wade could run for a third term.

The court, filled with judges appointed by the president, backed Wade's argument that the two term limit was not in effect when he first took office in 2000.

The decision sparked immediate fiery demonstrations across Dakar and other Senegalese towns, with roads blocked, tires burning in the streets and the police using tear gas to calm the violence.

Anger continued into Monday when a 60-year-old woman and a teenage boy died after police opened fire on protests that broke out in the northern town of Podor.

The president's spokesman, Serigne Mback Ndiaye, says elections and not protests should be the deciding factor and Wade should run.

Ndiaye says Abdoulaye Wade is courageous and he has suffered arrest and imprisonment during his life, but he used the political system to come to power. He says the political system will not fail and the opposition will come to power only if they have the majority in the ballots.

But not everyone here feels that way. Some opposition leaders are accusing Wade of staging a constitutional coup.

Youssou N'dour, one of three candidates to be invalidated by the Constitutional Court Friday, has appealed for the international community to step in.

International observers have already arrived in Dakar to watch the election process and make sure the polls are carried out in a free and fair manner.

The United States has weighed in this week in favor of the democratic process and yet called on the Senegalese leader to do what is right for the future of the country.

"While we respect the process, the political and legal process in Senegal, and the fact that he has now been cleared to run, our message to him remains the same: that the statesmanlike thing to do would be to cede to the next generation. We think that would be better," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

While the opposition has repeatedly called for peaceful demonstrations, presidential spokesman Ndiaye is calling M23 irresponsible.

Ndiaye adds that the opposition has not kept promises about the non-violence. He says leaders will be arrested and held to account.

The leader of the opposition coalition M23 Alioune Tine was arrested Saturday but has since been released.