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Senegal police clamp down on protesters as opposition rejects election delay

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Police made arrests and fired tear gas at opposition supporters during protests Sunday against the decision by President Macky Sall to postpone Senegal's Feb. 25 elections as federal lawmakers prepared to debate a bill to formalize the postponement.

Demonstrators rallied in the capital of Dakar after leading opposition figures and candidates in the presidential election rejected Saturday's announcement of the election postponement. Opposition leaders had called on citizens to defend democracy amid a push for dialogue by West Africa's regional bloc, ECOWAS.

Among those arrested as the protests spread in the capital included former Prime Minister Aminata Touré and Anta Babacar Ngom, one of the presidential candidates in the election.

The government cut off the signal of the private Walf television channel as it broadcast the protest live. The global Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the signal cutoff in a post on the social media platform X, urging Senegalese authorities to ensure that “journalists can work without hindrance.”

Analysts say the crisis in Senegal is putting one of Africa's most stable democracies to the test at a time when the region is struggling with a recent surge in coups. Senegal has been embroiled in political tensions as a result of deadly clashes involving opposition supporters and the disqualification of two opposition leaders ahead of the now-cancelled presidential ballot.

Several opposition figures rejected Sall’s decision to postpone the presidential election citing a dispute between the judiciary and parliament over the final list of candidates and those disqualified. At least two of the 20 candidates said they would proceed with their campaign scheduled to kick off Sunday.

Sall's tenure is scheduled to end April 2. Senegal’s electoral code requires 80 days' notice of an election, meaning the earliest a new vote could take place is the last week of April.

“I am launching my electoral campaign tomorrow, in Dakar, with the candidates who have chosen to defend the Constitution,” former minister and opposition candidate Thierno Alassane Sall said Saturday in a post on social media platform X.

Former mayor of the capital of Dakar Khalifa Sall also asked the citizens to “come together to save our democracy” while another opposition candidate, Déthié Fall, said, “We will start our campaign and we call on all candidates to do the same.”

The U.S. Department of State noted Senegal’s “strong tradition of democracy and peaceful transitions of power” in a post on X, which urged “all participants in (the) electoral process to engage peacefully to swiftly set a new date and the conditions for a timely, free and fair election.”

In postponing the election by repealing a decree that set the electoral process in motion, Sall cited a dispute between the judiciary and federal lawmakers over the disqualification process and the reported dual nationality of some qualified candidates.

But opposition leaders have argued the Senegalese leader lacks the power to delay the vote. Senegal’s constitution empowers the Constitutional Council, Senegal’s highest election authority, to reschedule the election in certain circumstances including in the case of “the death, permanent incapacity or withdrawal” of candidates.

His announcement followed a request to postpone the vote made by the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party, whose candidate Karim Wade was among those disqualified.

Wade had accused two judges of corruption in the disqualification process and said that postponing the vote would “make it possible to repair the damage suffered” by those disqualified.

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Asadu reported from Abuja, Nigeria.