Senegal's main opposition leader and presidential candidate, Ousmane Sonko, has claimed his innocence as he made his first court appearance in Dakar on Thursday to respond to accusations of rape.
‘He has, as you can imagine, contested the facts and has dismissed the accusation. He provided all the evidence of his innocence,’ said one of his lawyers, Bamba Cissé.
The 48-year-old politician, who came third in the last presidential election and plans to run again in 2024, has been accused of raping an employee of a beauty salon where he was getting a massage.
Sonko tweeted after the three-hour hearing that he believed it had gone very well.
Cissé described the case as a ‘state conspiracy’, a claim made repeatedly by the opposition leader, and said that it should be dropped.
‘We expect a total dismissal of the case in relation to these non-existent facts, that were the source of a plan hatched by people lurking in the shadows who simply wanted to eliminate a political opponent,’ said Cissé.
Security tight in Dakar
There was a large security presence throughout the city for the hearing, particularly around Sonko's home and the court building in the capital.
Yesterday, Sonko urged his supporters to remain calm.
‘I ask you solemnly to go about your business, not to come to my house, nor to the court, nor to rally, because this is an ordinary procedure. It will not be resolved tomorrow,’ he said.
His arrest and indictment last year led to several days of deadly riots, looting and destruction.
Members of Sonko’s Yewwi Askan Wi opposition coalition have expressed their support for their leader, saying they will stand together in the face of any injustice.
The authorities have denied any misuse of state institutions in the legal proceedings against Sonko.
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