Ousmane Sonko, widely supported by Senegalese youth, is facing a civil defamation suit filed against him by the Senegalese Minister of Tourism for alleged defamation and public insults.
Police and protesters clashed in Senegal’s capital Dakar on Thursday over a trial involving opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who is widely supported by many young people in the West African country.
Law enforcement fired tear gas at hundreds of Sonko supporters as they followed vehicles leading him to court for the resumption of a civil libel case against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for defamation alleged and public insults.
Protesters burned tires in the streets and threw rocks at police. A large supermarket was set on fire, reporters said.
Sonko, 48, is also accused of rape employee of a beauty salon in 2021 and uttering death threats against her. He denies any wrongdoing and says the charges are politically motivated. No date has been set for the trial.
Thursday’s skirmishes are the latest round of unrest in Senegal, where presidential elections are scheduled for February next year. The country has long been seen as a bastion of stability and democracy in a troubled region, a shaken reputation by deadly violence over the past two years.
Much of the anger is directed at President Macky Sall, whose failure to rule out the possibility of running for a third term has angered many. Senegal’s constitution allows for only two terms, but some fear Sall could use a recent constitution change to reset his term, a tactic used by other leaders to expand power in the region.
His government has also been accused of imprisoning dissidents and opposition members.
But many young Senegalese have also been drawn to Sonko due to high unemployment and economic hardship.
This led to sporadic and sometimes violent protests. Cries of “Macky Sall is a dictator” resound in Dakar during a demonstration in July 2022.
Tensions flared ahead of Sonko’s court appearance this week, with three days of protest. More than 10,000 supporters gathered at a pitch in Dakar on Tuesday to cheer on Sonko, who hopes to run for president in February. The former tax inspector came third in the 2019 polls – the youngest candidate in this election.
Sonko’s supporters accuse Sall of seeking to eliminate him from the competition with a guilty verdict.