Senegal in the grip of deadly riots after the opposition leader held

The Senegalese government promised on Friday to use “all necessary means” to reorganize the order after police fired tear gas in clashes with supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko as the interior minister said four people had died.

The conflicts followed a court ruling that Sonko be detained. And after two days of protests, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterre called on all sides to avoid further escalation of violence.

“The protests must remain peaceful, and the security and police forces must always function … in line with international human rights standards,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

“The government regrets the loss of four lives” in incidents “rooted in banditry and insurgency,” Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said on television on Friday, accusing Sonko of “issuing calls for violence.”

In Dakar’s working class district of Medina, hundreds of youths fought in street parties with riot police and smoke rising from burning tires at makeshift barricades in the capital.

Protesters chanted “Free Sonko” on the main avenue Blaise Diagne, the ground strewn with stones, grenade cartridges and burning debris.

“The protests must remain peaceful and the security and police forces must always function … in line with international human rights standards,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

In Mbao, in the city’s suburbs, looters also looted a French Auchan supermarket, an AFP correspondent at the scene said. The chain says that at least 14 stores have been attacked during this week’s unrest.

The tensions are high

The arrest of Sonko, popular with young people and seen as a major challenger to President Macky Sall, has given rise to the worst unrest in years in a West African state often referred to as a lighthouse for stability.

His supporters had called for further protests to coincide with his hearing before a judge on Friday on allegations of disorderly conduct.

“Sonko has been remanded in custody for disturbing public order,” lawyer Etienne Ndione told reporters after the hearing.

Tensions were high in the city with strong police facilities around the courts, the presidential palace and the National Assembly in the heart of the city.

Clashes broke out on Wednesday between Sonko’s supporters and police when he went to court for another case where he was facing rape charges – accusations that he denies.

Sonko was then arrested on charges of disturbing public order, a development that sparked angry protests in the capital and other cities.

The custody decision, which was issued on Friday and which specifically concerns the case of public order, expires on Sunday.

He was not charged on Friday in the rape case and will return to court on Monday for questioning on those charges, his lawyers said.

Media targeted

One person died in the southern city of Bignona on Thursday, police said during clashes there. It was not clear if that death was among the four that Abdoulaye Diome revealed.

Protesters attacked the offices of the government newspaper Le Soleil and the RFM radio station, which belongs to a press group owned by the singer and former minister Youssou Ndour. Both media are considered state-owned.

Sonko, a 46-year-old devout Muslim who is the leader of the opposition pastoral party, is popular with many young Senegalese because of his sharp attacks on the elite, especially President Sall.

He came third to Sall in the 2019 election.

But his political future was suddenly clouded last month when rape was accused against him by an employee of a salon where, according to him, he went to get a massage back.

He denies the allegations and accuses Sall of conspiring to exclude him from politics.

The government warned “some media” on Thursday against pursuing what it called “tendentious” coverage of the events.

Regulators shut down two local TV channels, Sen TV and Walf TV, for 72 hours, accusing them of constantly broadcasting images of the unrest.

In a statement, Amnesty International called on the Senegalese authorities “to immediately stop arbitrary arrests of opponents and activists, to respect the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”

It also called on the authorities to “highlight the presence of men armed with clubs next to the security forces”.

Netblocks, an organization that monitors Internet interference, said social media and messaging programs, including Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp, had been affected by restrictions.