Senegal tightens security as opposition leader faces court

·2-min read

Senegal deployed armoured cars in the capital Dakar on Monday after days of deadly protests, as supporters of detained opposition leader Ousmane Sonko called for fresh demonstrations ahead of his latest court appearance.

Five people including a schoolboy have been killed in clashes sparked by the arrest of Sonko and dozens of his supporters.

It is the worst violence in years in a country usually seen as a beacon of stability in volatile West Africa.

The United Nations and Senegal's neighbours have appealed for all sides to show restraint, and President Macky Sall is facing mounting pressure to speak out.

Sonko came third in 2019's presidential election and his popularity with Senegal's young people has fuelled speculation that he could be a future leader.

He was due to appear in court on Monday to answer questions about a rape charge, in a case he says is politically motivated.

Early Monday, dozens of opposition supporters waved flags and chanted "free Sonko" outside the courthouse with armoured vehicles posted nearby, while access to the building was heavily policed.

An opposition collective known as the Movement for the Defence of Democracy called on Saturday for three days of massive demonstrations starting from Monday.

- Cars set alight -

Vehicles topped with machine guns were stationed in areas in Dakar where recent clashes took place, and a dozen others were seen passing Independence Square, in the heart of the city's government quarter where the presidential palace is located.

Schools in the capital have been ordered closed for a week.

Sonko, 46, a fierce critic of the governing elite, was arrested last Wednesday on charges of disturbing public order.

Scuffles had broken out between his supporters and security forces as he was on his way to court in Dakar to answer the separate rape charge.

People torched cars, looted shops and threw stones at police during the protests, which have highlighted longstanding grievances over living standards and inequality.

The clashes had abated by Saturday but calls from the opposition to take to the streets again have led to concerns the violence could escalate.

Sonko adviser Etienne Ndione told AFP his detention on the public order case had been lifted on Sunday and the authorities must now decide if they will hold him over the rape case.

Ahead of the new protests, 19 foreign embassies in Dakar -- including those of the United States, the European Union and former colonial ruler France -- issued a joint statement on Sunday urging non-violence and dialogue.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for a peaceful resolution, voicing "significant concerns".