Clashes in Senegal kill one after the arrest of opposition leader Sonko

Senegalese police clashed with supporters of arrested opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Thursday, leaving one person dead in the south of the country, police said.

It was the first death confirmed in clashes since Sonko was arrested on Wednesday for disturbing public order, as protests erupted before his court’s appearance against a rape charge.

Sonko, leader of the opposition Pastef party and former presidential candidate, is considered an important potential challenger to President Macky Sall in the three-year election.

A person was killed in clashes on Thursday in the city of Bignona, in the southern Casamance region, police said.

“We still do not know the cause, it is under investigation,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Four policemen were also injured in the fighting.

Sonko’s arrest has sparked the worst unrest in Dakar in several years, in a West African country known for its stability.

Dozens of students were still being held at Dakar Cheikh Anta Diop University on Thursday, where they threw concrete blocks at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Sonko was to be transferred to a court building in Dakar on Thursday night, where his case will be heard by a judge. But his lawyers said the hearing had been postponed until Friday.

“Ousmane Sonko is now subject to a decision. He will be brought before the investigating judge tomorrow, willingly or by force,” Abdoulaye Tall, one of his lawyers, told AFP.

Senegalese regulators also turned off the signal from two local TV channels, Sen TV and Walf TV, on Thursday, accusing them of broadcasting “in loop” images of the riots after Sonko was arrested.

Popular with young people

Hundreds of people had followed his motorcade on Wednesday, sounding horns and singing before conflicts broke out and Sonko was arrested before coming to court.

Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said Sonko had been arrested for a ban on gatherings due to coronavirus and violations of a traffic plan introduced.

“Everyone has to follow. Others have done the same. I wonder why there should be an exception,” he told RFM radio.

Sonko also denies the rape charges filed against him last month by an employee of a salon where he received a massage.

A 46-year-old devout Muslim, Sonko is often critical of Senegal’s ruling elite and is popular with young people.

He accuses Sall of conspiring to put him on the sidelines of the 2024 election.

Violence also broke out on Wednesday in other areas, including Casamance, where Sonko’s father comes from and where he has a strong supporter.

Sonko ran against the president in the 2019 vote, but finished third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.

Presidents of the former French colony are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall began a constitutional review in 2016 and raised suspicions that he intends to run again.