Despite the release of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko Monday, violent protests which have so far claimed the lives of eight people continued across the country.
An employee of a beauty salon has accused Sonko of raping her, and he was arrested last Wednesday, sparking widespread outcry at another perceived attempt by sitting President Macky Sall to torpedo his political opponents.
Police fired tear gas and army tanks patrolled the streets of the capital Dakar as thousands of protestors thronged the streets, some pelting the authorities with stones and burning vehicles.
Despite being indicted for rape, Sonko called for more, larger protests following his release on Monday.
“We are not asking the people to go and unseat Macky Sall,” Sonko said, calling for protests to be peaceful, before adding, “But let’s be clear, the revolution is marching its way to 2024,” in reference to the country’s next general election.
The protests come amid rising frustrations over rampant unemployment, inequality and corruption, all of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
At least eight people have died in the clashes in one of West Africa’s most stable democracies, according to Amnesty International, with “some of them caused by the use of excessive force and firearms by security forces,” Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director, said.
Meanwhile, President Sall has pledged to open up additional funding to help now-struggling unemployed people and owners of small businesses. He also vowed to shorten the nightly curfew, which has hampered large parts of the country’s informal economy, further imperilling some of its most economically vulnerable citizens.
“I will use all the powers conferred on me by my office to support a return to calm,” he said.
Two of Sall’s previous political opponents were precluded from running for president in 2019 due to sudden criminal charges levelled against them in the run up.
Sonko claims the charges brought against him Monday are politically motivated.
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