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Senegalese government announces probe into unrest

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JOHN WESSELS/AFP or licensors


Senegal's government on Thursday said an "independent and impartial" commission would investigate deadly violence in March that stained the country's reputation as a haven of stability in West Africa.

Armed Forces Minister Sidiki Kaba, announcing the inquiry, said investigators would "re-establish the facts, our part of the truth."

Riots and looting broke out when opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, a leading rival to President Macky Sall, was arrested and accused of rape.

Sonko, who has a strong following among young Senegalese, denies the allegations, describing them as plot to knock his 2024 presidential bid off course.

At least five people were killed in the worst unrest in years, according to an unofficial toll, while the opposition says at least 13 died and blames the authorities.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have denounced what they describe as excessive force and use of live rounds, or the use of unidentified agents to support the security forces.

Kaba hit out at accounts which "suggest that the entire responsibility for all the facts, the dead, the wounded, the looting, lies with the government of Senegal."

He did not rule out possible violations by police or gendarmes, but insisted there would be "no impunity" for any who were found guilty.

But, he said, President Sall had given orders not to fire on demonstrators, and the security forces had "shown restraint, calm and professionalism -- without that, we would have had a bloodbath."

Kaba said the commission would be open to the opposition and civil society, but gave no further details or the timetable for its work.

It will be tasked with drawing up a toll and determining responsibilities, as well as investigating accusations that unidentified forces helped either the security forces or the rioters.

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