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Pressure mounts on president as Senegal braces for fresh protests

Pressure mounts on president as Senegal braces for fresh protests

Macky Sall urged to engage in dialogue ahead of a planned new round of opposition protests starting Monday.

Senegalese President Macky Sall is facing growing pressure to address this week’s deadly unrest and engage in dialogue as the country braces for more protests.

At least five people, including a schoolboy, have been killed in days of clashes that erupted after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Wednesday, in what is the country’s worst political violence in years.

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

The unrest has alarmed the United Nations and Senegal’s neighbours, which have appealed for all sides to show restraint.

Sall has yet to publicly address the situation, however.

On Sunday, Senegal’s government ombudsman Alioune Badara Cisse urged Sall to speak out ahead of a planned new round of opposition demonstrations from Monday.

“Senegalese people want to hear you,” Cisse told a news conference in the capital, Dakar. “Why the devil wouldn’t you talk to them?”

“Do it before it’s too late,” added Cisse, who formerly served as a foreign minister under Sall but whose role as ombudsman is to mediate between government institutions and to safeguard human rights.

Sonko, 46, a fierce critic of the governing elite in Senegal, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of disturbing public order. Scuffles between opposition supporters and security forces had broken out while Sonko was on his way to court in Dakar to answer on a separate rape charge – which he says is politically motivated.

On Saturday, the opposition collective which includes Sonko’s Pastef party called for three more days of protests starting Monday, urging people to “massively descend onto the streets”.

Tension was already expected to be high in Dakar on Monday, where Sonko is due in court to answer questions about the rape charge, and the government has ordered schools closed for a week.

On the highway a military battalion moving towards the capital ahead of Monday’s protests as government mediator calls for dialogue

— Nicolas Haque (@nicolashaque) March 7, 2021

Clashes first broke out after the arrest of Sonko and escalated into nationwide protests which only abated on Saturday.

Large queues formed for petrol and groceries on Sunday, during what is expected to be a brief respite in the unrest.

A schoolboy was killed when a demonstration on Saturday in the southern town of Diaobe turned violent, adding to four reported dead by the authorities on Friday.

The education ministry said on Sunday schools in Senegal will shut until March 15. Many shops, petrol stations and banks were closed for days this week.

The influential League of Imams and Preachers of Senegal, meanwhile, on Sunday called for the release of Sonko and a “return to calm”.

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