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Senegal Braces for Possible Political Violence

  • Jane Labous

Protesters burn tires in a street after Senegal's highest court ruled that the country's increasingly frail President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, could run for a third term in next month's presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal, January 27, 2012.

Protesters burn tires in a street after Senegal's highest court ruled that the country's increasingly frail President Abdoulaye Wade, 85, could run for a third term in next month's presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal, January 27, 2012.

Dakar is on red alert for another night of violence as the Constitutional Court considers the appeals of the rejected presidential candidates. On Friday, Senegal's highest court ruled that President Abdoulaye Wade can run for re-election, but ruled some other candidates cannot.

Dakar is recovering from violent protests that spread across the city Friday night as news spread that incumbent president Abdoulaye Wade's bid to stand for a third term had been approved by the Constitutional Court.

Youths took to the streets in central Dakar and other towns such as Mbour, Thies and Kaolack. The headquarters of President Wade's Senegalese Democratic Party was burned down, with other angry protesters gathering around the Constitutional Court itself.

Police opened fire with tear gas to disperse protesters in central Dakar, who hurled rocks at police and set tires on fire. Cars were overturned to make roadblocks.

The opposition says an amendment to the Senegalese constitution sets a limit of two terms for a president. But President Wade, 85, said his first term pre-dated the constitutional amendment.

The court validated 13 other presidential candidates but rejected the candidacy of Senegalese pop star Youssou N'Dour, along with Abdoulahmane Sarr and Keba Keinde. The Senegalese press is reporting Saturday that Wade's administration will try to invalidate the candidacies of principal opponents Idrissa Seck and Macky Sall.

Also Saturday, Senegal's June 23 Movement,which represents all the major opposition candidates, announced street protests asking the president to step down. Police have arrested Alioune Tine, a senior member of the so-called M23 coalition along with many others.

There are also rumors that police have also been ordered to arrest the head of the opposition movement M23, Abdoulahmane Sarr, who at 43 is one of the youngest candidates, submitted his appeal to the court Saturday morning. He said that he remains positive.

"We have done everything we can to offer the opportunity to Senegalese people to vote for a competent, engaged youthful politician who offers solutions that they need. There is no reason that we should be rejected after collecting 12,454 signatures of support," said Sarr.

Youssou N'Dour also appealed the decision early Saturday and is now waiting to see whether his candidacy can be approved.

Military units currently surround the Constitutional Court and others areas in Dakar.

Dakar resident Emmanuel Camara said the protests will only get worse.

"They should expect it to be worse than the June 23 protest, because starting from tomorrow onwards, our youth - what we call our youth forces - will position themselves here in the street. It's unacceptable," said Camara.

As it currently stands, the centrist Wade will face rivals including Socialist Party leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng and three ex-prime ministers - Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Moustapha Niasse.

Sarr says, despite the trouble, Senegal is nevertheless a peaceful place.

"It's a shame about the protests, because we all know that Senegal is a country of peace," said Sarr. "We would have liked the candidacies to have been set in an atmosphere of peace - and to have had far and transparent elections. We would hope that the elections can go ahead in as much calm as possible. It is a shame that we cannot just go ahead with the process as normally as possible. The young people of Senegal are ready to turn the page and vote for change."

It remains to be seen if the protests will continue in the days running up to the voting on February 26.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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