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Senegalese Presidential Contenders Tour Country


On the second day of campaigning for presidential elections in Senegal, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade took his campaign to the southern Casamance region, the site of a long-running separatist movement. Other candidates in the 15-man race launched their campaigns in the capital, Dakar. Naomi Schwarz has more from VOA's Dakar bureau.

Supporters of President Wade sang and played drums, as they waited for their candidate to appear at a rally in Ziguinchor, in the southern Casamance region.

Mr. Wade negotiated a peace settlement in 2004, after more than two decades of fighting between separatist rebels and government forces.

But fighting in Casamance has flared up in recent months, and the country was shocked in December by the brutal assassination of Omar Lamine Badji, an important administrative official in the region and a close ally of Mr. Wade.

It is the second campaign stop for the president, who launched his campaign Sunday in Touba, in central Senegal, where the Mouride Muslim Brotherhood is based. Millions of Senegalese claim allegiance to the Mourides.

Other candidates opened the brief campaign season in the capital, Dakar, but they also said that they planned to tour the country in the coming weeks.

Bamba Touré, from Kolda in southern Senegal, is a supporter of Idrissa Seck, a main contender. Touré says that he is one of 50 youths, who will accompany Seck on his trip around Senegal to gain the confidence of the Senegalese people.

Although the campaign season only officially began on Sunday, political candidates have spent months organizing. Each neighborhood in major cities and region of the country is under the watch of a party coordinator, who is charged with rallying supporters and spreading their candidate's message.

Momar Mbaye is the coordinator for Seck's party, Rewmi, in a densely populated neighborhood just outside Dakar. He says that they are already beyond the stage of knocking on doors, and that they have already achieved a high level of mobilization.

But the next three weeks are still crucial, he says. He says he has left his job for the duration of the campaign, and plans to devote himself full-time to getting Seck elected.

Senegal is viewed by many West African analysts as one of the most democratic in the region, but some of the president's opponents say freedom of speech has been curbed during his time in power. They have also said they are not completely satisfied at the slow release of voter cards, and have warned Mr. Wade of not trying any foul play.