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Lawyer Demands Release Of Senegal's Ex-PM

The attorney for Senegal's jailed former prime minister is calling for his immediate release. Idrissa Seck, who was fired from his job at the head of the government by the president last year, is in custody on accusations he threatened state security, a charge human rights activists say is politically motivated.

The lawyer for Senegal's former Prime Minister Idrissa Seck, says he has finally been allowed to meet with his client, nearly a week after his arrest. But Boukounta Diallo says he still has not been given access to information concerning the case against Mr. Seck.

Mr. Diallo says the ex-prime minister is being held as a hostage of the state. He says nothing justifies Mr. Seck's continued detention.

Mr. Seck was arrested by Senegalese authorities last Friday, on suspicion of embezzling more than $45 million from a construction project in the city of Thies, where he is the mayor.

But on Saturday, in the only official statement released by investigators, the chief prosecutor said he had received information that linked Mr. Seck to, what he called, threats to state security.

Mr. Diallo denies his client has done anything wrong.

It is time, he says, for the authorities to live up to their responsibilities and put an end to, what he calls, a farce.

Under the original accusation of embezzlement, Mr. Seck should have already been either charged with a crime or released.

But a legal expert with the human rights group Interights, Ibrahima Kane, says under a special law concerning state security the ex-prime minister can be held until Monday before a decision is made.

"They can arrest you for four days, and after that, the person who is questioning him can renew for another four days," he said. "And at the end of the eight days, either they release him, or they prosecute him. That is what the Senegalese law is saying."

Once a close political ally of Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, Mr. Seck was fired from his position as prime minister by the president last year. Since then, he had said little in public until last week, when he said he planned to head a new political group if Mr. Wade's Senegal Democratic Party did not appoint him party leader before general elections next year.

Mr. Kane says he believes Mr. Seck's arrest is politically motivated.

"The key problem is Idrissa Seck wants to get to the power," he said. "Wade wants to be re-elected. And Idrissa Seck is really an obstacle to Wade's re-election. And that is why all these problems are happening."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Senegal's capital Dakar earlier this week for talks on a trade deal with African nations, was asked by journalists to comment on Mr. Seck's arrest.

"My understanding is that this is an ongoing investigation," she said. "And it is being debated quite openly in the press, which, I think, is a good sign. Obviously, we stand around the world for rule of law and for an open system and expect that of everyone, including our friends."

Senegal is a member of the African Growth and Opportunity Act group of nations, which receive special trade privileges from the United States in exchange for demonstrating good governance. Mr. Seck's arrest, many civil society leaders say, has damaged the nation's reputation as a beacon of democratic values in a region plagued by repression and political instability.