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Senegal’s Constitutional Court Confirms List of Candidates

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

Senegal’s election race, which turns largely on the controversial candidacy of incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade, begins for real Monday after a top court upheld the president's eligibility to run.

Late on Sunday, Senegal’s Constitutional Court confirmed its earlier ruling that 85-year-old incumbent Abdoulaye Wade can stand for election in the presidential vote four weeks from now. He is one of 14 candidates cleared to run.

The court also confirmed that three invalidated candidates - music icon Youssou N’Dour, Keba Keinde and Abdourahmane Sarr - will not be allowed to stand.

Wade was first elected in 2000 for seven years and re-elected in 2007 for five years - after a constitutional reform that also limited presidents to two terms. He argues he has the right to stand for a third term because he was elected for the first time before the change was made.

Dakar and other towns in Senegal, including Mbour and Thies, are recovering from a weekend of unrest, after angry voters protested at the acceptance of Wade’s candidacy.

The majority of Senegalese want Wade to stand down as president - saying he is too old and that they have had enough.

N’Dour said the government is afraid of his candidacy, which is why he has been rejected. He has expressed support for the leader of opposition movement M23, Alioune Tine, who was arrested on Saturday.

M23 is inviting people to gather Tuesday to demonstrate in the streets of Dakar.

"The time for talking is ended - it’s time to act, said N’Dour. "What is the act - it is to show these people that the power was scared, and I weigh my words carefully. The Senegalese have witnessed all these attacks that have happened since I announced my candidature, which proves that he is afraid of me. I woke up the Senegalese and the people who are behind me are determined that they will not accept the seizure of power.”

Police fired tear gas Friday to disperse protesters in central Dakar, who hurled rocks at police and set tires on fire. Cars were overturned to make roadblocks, and the headquarters of Wade’s Senegalese Democratic Party was burnt down.

The city returned to normal Monday, although opposition candidates are now vowing to fight Wade all the way to the polls.

The candidates include front-runners Moustapha Niasse, Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Ousmane Tanor Dieng, as well as relative unknowns Ibrahima Fall and Doudou Ndoye.

Niasse said Wade should not be standing for a third term - and is calling on people to vote against him.

“We call for peace and for everyone to calm down," said Niasse. "But Senegal belongs to the Senegalese and not just to the leaders. We need to work together to confront Wade because we are not in agreement that he goes for a third term.”

Candidate Sall said he also believes that the government is performing “gymnastics” to justify Wade’s candidacy - and expressed the view that the elderly incumbent president should not stand.

“The candidature is itself founded on an unconstitutional position. It is totally in contradiction of the fundamental rules of the constitution. It is not because we have legalized this contravention that we should accept it. We should not accept it,” said Sall.

People who spoke to VOA in the streets of Dakar were of the almost unanimous opinion that President Wade should stand down. Many appeared dismayed at the political future now facing Senegal.

The country goes to the polls on February 26.