Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested in the capital, Dakar, on Wednesday, according to his lawyers, before his planned court appearance for a rape.
Hundreds of supporters gathered in the city before the 46-year-old was to appear before a judge for the accusation, which he has claimed is politically motivated.
“He has been informed that he has been arrested on charges of disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorized demonstration,” one of Sonko’s lawyers, Cheikh Khouraissy, told AFP.
Another of his lawyers, Etienne Ndione, confirmed this account.
Controversy has been raging in Sonko since last month, when Senegalese media reported that an employee of a salon where he went for a massage filed rape against him.
The opposition leader challenged President Macky Sall in the 2019 vote and finally finished third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.
Sonko, the leader of the Pastef party, has denied the allegations and accused the president of conspiring to remove him before the 2024 election.
He was to meet a judge in Dakar on Wednesday to answer for rape.
But an arrest warrant was issued before he arrived at the courthouse, said lawyer Khouraissy.
Hundreds of opposition supporters had followed his motorcade on the way to court, sounded car horns and sung traditional songs, AFP journalists saw.
Police tried to disperse them by firing tear gas canisters.
The rape charge against Sonko comes when the uncertainty increases if Sall, 59, will seek a third term.
Presidents of the former French colony of about 16 million people are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall initiated a constitutional review in 2016 and raised suspicions that he intends to run again.
Other presidents in West Africa – such as Guinea’s Alpha Conde and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara – have used constitutional changes to win their third term.