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Senegal opposition group drops protest call

Tension: Police officers pictured in Dakar on Monday after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was charged with rape - JOHN WESSELS / ©AFP

(AFP)

A Senegalese opposition group on Tuesday suspended calls for massive protests in the West African state after a judge freed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from detention. 

“The demonstrations scheduled for March 9 and 10 are suspended,” the Movement for Defence of Democracy, or M2D, said in a statement. 

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It added it would outline plans for future protests at a press conference on Tuesday.

Usually seen as a haven of stability of a volatile region, Senegal was rocked by deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces which began last week and continued through Monday.

At least five people died in the unrest, sparked on Wednesday by the arrest of Sonko, a government critic popular with young people.

Over the weekend, the M2D, which includes Sonko’s Pastef party, had called for three days of large-scale demonstrations against his arrest, starting Monday.

A court in Dakar freed Sonko from detention on Monday, easing tensions. 

But it nonetheless pressed charges against Sonko leader in a rape case which the opposition leader says is politically motivated. 

Sonko came third in 2019’s presidential election and is considered a contender to replace President Macky Sall in 2024.  

But his political future was thrown into doubt last month after after a beauty salon employee accused him of raping her. 

Sonko was arrested last week on charges of public disorder after scuffles between his supporters and security forces broke out while he was on his way to a court appearance related to the rape charge.

To Senegal’s political opposition, the case fits a perceived pattern of prosecutions of government opponents.

After his release on Monday, 46-year-old Sonko said “the revolution has already started and nobody can stop it.”

He also called for larger, but peaceful, anti-government protests. 

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