Dozens of people in Senegal's capital of Dakar were arrested Thursday as protesters hurled rocks at police and blocked roads with burning tires, while police fired tear gas.
Tensions in the West African country have mounted as opposition supporters say their leader, Ousmane Sonko, is on trial over false accusations meant to keep him from running for president in next year's elections.
On Thursday Sonko was found guilty of accusing the minister of tourism of embezzlement. He was handed a two-month suspended prison sentence but will remain eligible to run for the presidency. He's also facing separate rape charges. His rape arrest ignited a violent string of protests in March 2021 that led to the deaths of 14 people.
His supporters say both allegations were fabricated to prevent his presidential bid.
“We came here to liberate our democracy. We’re fed up,” said protester Mafall Sall, 20, as he flushed his eyes of tear gas. “We’ve decided to fight back. Because, as we’ve seen, Macky Sall does not negotiate or respect elections, all he knows is power.”
The latest round of protests began March 14 and have become increasingly riotous. More than 130 demonstrators were arrested between March 14 and 16, and three were killed, according to rights group Amnesty International.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented number of arrests of citizens because they have either participated in demonstrations or they have expressed views or criticism against President Macky Sall on social media,” said Hawa Ba, Senegal officer at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. “But also because they have used their rights in terms of expression and in terms of demonstration. This is unprecedented.”
Macky Sall's refusal to state whether he'll run for a controversial third term in next year's elections has incensed many Senegalese. While in office, Sall altered constitutionally allowed term limits, which many fear will be used to justify a third run for the presidency.
Other leaders in the region have used similar tactics to cling to power.
“I came here today to fight against the injustices reigning over Senegal, to fight against Macky Sall’s dictatorship,” said protester Abdul Diop, 38. “Senegal is being subjected to a dictatorial regime, to a tyranny. That’s why we’re here. We’re ready, ready to give our lives.”
More protests are planned for next Monday.