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Senegal Seeks to Nab Sonko

FILE: Senegal opposition figure Ousmane Sonko. Taken Jan. 19, 2023
FILE: Senegal opposition figure Ousmane Sonko. Taken Jan. 19, 2023

DAKAR - Security forces on Wednesday fired tear gas at the mayor of Senegal's capital and legislators seeking to reach opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, barricaded in his home amid growing political tensions.

Security vehicles and barricades surrounded the home of Ousmane Sonko as authorities banned rallies by his supporters on the eve of a trial that could determine his eligibility to contest next year's presidential election.

A cordon of police in riot gear barred the way to Sonko's vehicle at the end of his street outside his home, footage broadcast live on social networks showed.

Security forces later fired tear gas at member of parliament and Dakar mayor Guy Marius Sagna and several other MPs who had come to support Sonko, the AFP journalist saw.

Journalists attempting to interview the MPs were also fired at with tear gas.

The mayor was hit in the right thigh and images published later on social networks showed him lying in a medical clinic, speaking to camera after receiving medical treatment.

Sagna and about a dozen activists were earlier this month arrested and held overnight after attempting to deliver a letter of protest to the Tunisian embassy following violence against sub-Saharan Africans in the North African country.

- Tense political climate -

Sonko's confinement comes amid growing tensions a year ahead of Senegal's presidential election, raising fears of violence in a state reputed for stability.

Sonko, a firebrand politician who came third in the last presidential election, is expected in court Thursday after being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for "defamation, insult and forgery."

"He has not been able to leave his home since last night... We don't know why, there's no court decision placing him under house arrest," Ousseynou Ly, spokesman for Sonko's political party, Pastef, told AFP.

The police set up roadblocks in the streets surrounding his home, the AFP reporter saw.

The prefect of Dakar, Mor Talla Tine, also banned a pro-Sonko demonstration planned for Wednesday afternoon.

He cited "real threats to public order" and a construction site on the chosen route.

The opposition has called for nationwide demonstrations to condemn what it calls manipulation of the justice system and arbitrary arrests.

Rallies have been authorized outside Dakar.

- Plot claims -

On Tuesday, Sonko held an authorized gathering where he told thousands of supporters that he was "ready to fight."

In addition to the defamation lawsuit, Sonko is facing separate charges of rape and making death threats, based on a complaint by an employee at a beauty salon where he was getting a massage.

On January 18, he was referred to a criminal court on those charges.

That case has been a source of tension in Senegal for two years.

The two legal affairs could determine whether Sonko will be allowed to run in the presidential elections set for February 2024.

Sonko claims the charges are part of a plot to torpedo his chances.

He has also claimed President Macky Sall intends to override the constitution and run for a third term.

Sall, who was elected in 2012 and again in 2019, has not confirmed or denied whether he seeks a third time in office.