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Unrest as Senegalese Authorities Bring Sonko to Court

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Authorities took drastic measures Thursday, forcibly removing Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from his car and escorting him to court, preventing his supporters from accompanying him, sparking unrest across the capital.

Police fired tear gas in several parts of Dakar to disperse demonstrators on the third day of demonstrations in support of Sonko, who finished third in the last presidential election and is seen as a leading candidate in next year’s elections.

Some protesters set fire to buses belonging to the Senegalese national public transport company and targeted French shops. Unrest was also reported in the city of Thies, 68 kilometers (42 miles) east of the capital, as well as in the cities of Ziguinchor and Bigno in the south and St. Louis in the north of the country.

Sonko insists his legal troubles are part of President Macky Sall’s government’s efforts to block his candidacy in the 2024 election. The opposition figure has urged Sall to state publicly that he will not run for a third term.

“The face of Senegal is the Macky dictatorship with police repression,” Sonko told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, a convoy of opposition supporters spent more than an hour making its way between Sonko’s home and the Court of Justice, where he was due to appear in connection with a civil case brought against him by Senegalese’s tourism minister for alleged defamation.

Once in court, Sonko asked to see a doctor, saying that the police abused him when they forced him out of his car. Judge Papi Mohamed Diop postponed the hearing until March 30.

In a separate case, Sonko is also facing rape charges after a massage parlor employee came forward and accused him of assault. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and will be barred from running for president. No date has been set for this trial.

Thursday marks the second time in a month that Senegalese authorities have forcibly removed Sonko from his car, saying his movements had caused a disturbance. In mid-February, the police smashed his car window so they could open the door and force him out.

In 2021, days of deadly protests erupt after Sonko is arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to court for his scheduled appearance in a rape case. At least 13 people have been killed during the worst violence that has rocked Senegal in years.

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