DAKAR, June 2, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Nine people have died in clashes across
Senegal, the interior minister said Friday, after a court sentenced firebrand
opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in jail.
A conviction for "corrupting youth" may disqualify Sonko, President Macky
Sall's fiercest opponent, from contesting next year's presidential election.
The case has deeply divided Senegal, sparking sporadic but deadly violence
that has battered the country's image of stability.
After Thursday's verdict, clashes broke out between police and protesters,
buses were set alight in the capital Dakar, and disturbances were reported
elsewhere including the city of Ziguinchor, where Sonko has been mayor since
"We have noted with regret violence that has led to the destruction of public
and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and
Ziguinchor," Interior Minister Antoine Diome said on national television.
Two police officials told AFP on condition of anonymity that at least three
of the deaths occurred at demonstrations in Ziguinchor, and a policeman was
stoned to death by young protesters in the capital.
A former civil servant, Sonko rose to prominence in presidential elections in
2019, coming third after a campaign that took aim at Sall and the country's
He portrays Sall as corrupt and a would-be dictator, while the president's
supporters call Sonko a rabble-rouser who has sown instability.
His initial arrest on rape charges in 2021 sparked several days of clashes
that left at least 12 people dead.
The 48-year-old did not attend the trial and was absent when Thursday's
judgement was handed down.
He was presumed to be at his Dakar home, where he had been blocked in by
security forces after being detained at the weekend.
The court did not rule on whether he should be arrested. But after two years
of a confrontation with the authorities, the head of the PASTEF-Patriots
party could now be arrested "at any time", Justice Minister Ismaila Madior
Fall told journalists.
When the Dakar criminal court handed down its verdict, Sonko's party called
on the Senegalese people to "take to the streets".
The university campus in Dakar was turned into something resembling a
Groups of young people pelted police in riot gear with stones. Police fired
back with tear gas.
Several buses from the faculty of medicine, the history department and the
country's leading school of journalism were set on fire and offices
ransacked. Classes were suspended until further notice.
Elsewhere, young protestors attacked a transport ticket office and other
public property, burning tyres and placing obstacles in the streets.
Satire Mbaye, a presidential party official in the Dakar suburb of Keur
Massar, said the party headquarters had been "ransacked".
Trouble was reported elsewhere in the West African state -- in Casamance in
the south, Mbour and Kaolack in the west and St Louis in the north.
Several social media and messaging platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram
and YouTube were facing serious access restrictions in Senegal late Thursday.
"This situation resembles what was observed during the 2021 protests and is
likely to significantly limit the public's ability to communicate," said
Netblocks, a global internet monitor.
On Friday interior minister Diome acknowledged the blockages, citing "the
dissemination of hateful and subversive messages on social networks".
- Election bid -
Attention has focused on whether, under the electoral code, Sonko's
conviction will prevent him from contesting next year's vote.
"Ousmane Sonko's candidacy is in jeopardy," said Djiby Diagne, one of his
"Corrupting youth" is defined as encouraging the "debauchery" of a young
person under the age of 21.
The court acquitted him on charges of rape and issuing death threats.
The complainant, Adji Sarr, a former employee of the beauty salon where Sonko
used to get massages, said Sonko had abused her on five occasions between
late 2020 and early 2021.
She was under 21 at the time of the events.
Sonko has maintained his innocence and claims the president is manipulating
the judiciary to torpedo his political career -- a charge the government
Ndeye Khady Ndiaye, the owner of the beauty salon, was also sentenced to two
years in prison for incitement to debauchery, but acquitted of complicity in
She and Sonko must each pay a fine of 600,000 CFA francs ($980) and jointly
pay 20 million CFA francs ($33,000) in damages to the complainant.
"We are satisfied of Sonko's guilt", El Hadji Diouf, Adji Sarr's lawyer, told
But 20 million CFA francs in damages is little for the suffering Sarr has
endured, he said.
She has been threatened, insulted and placed under police protection since
the scandal broke two years ago.