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Opposition leader detained as Senegal tensions rise

Opposition leader detained as Senegal tensions rise   -  
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Ousmane Sonko

Senegalese opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was forcibly removed from his vehicle by security forces Thursday after his supporters were dispersed by teargas, in a new bout of tension ahead of presidential elections due next year.

The incidents took place after the postponement of a politically-charged trial that may determine Sonko's eligibility for upcoming presidential elections, whose date was also announced on Thursday.

In video footage broadcast live on social networks, the politician -- who came third in the 2019 presidential election and has declared himself a candidate for the 2024 race -- is seen being forcibly removed from the backseat of his vehicle by uniformed men.

They are seen breaking the window, while Sonko is heard saying he refused to get out.

The men then open the door and pull the politician out by the arm.

After resisting for a few moments, Sonko allowed himself to be taken away.

The police prefecture later confirmed that he was taken home.

The incidents come amid growing tension in the West African country, which has a general reputation for stability in a region where political turbulence is widespread.

Earlier, security forces had used tear gas to disperse about a hundred Sonko supporters who were attempting to enter the court in the capital Dakar.

Sonko, 48, has enjoyed a rapid political rise thanks in part to his popularity with young people.

But he has repeatedly been summoned to court over the past two years.

In this case, Sonko is being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for "defamation, insults and forgery."

As with past hearings, there was a large police presence on the streets of Dakar ahead of Thursday's proceedings.

A stampede followed Sonko's entrance to the court, with guards preventing supporters from entering the room, which was already packed with journalists and members of the opposition.

The trial then opened, but the judge ordered a postponement until March 16.

Sonko had been expected in court on February 2 but did not appear. His lawyers claimed he had not received a summons.

On Wednesday evening, Sonko announced that he would appear in court Thursday and called on "all Senegalese" to join him there.

In March 2021, Sonko was arrested over rape allegations, triggering violence in which around a dozen people were killed.

A judge has ordered him to face trial in the rape case, though the trial date is not yet known.

Sonko claims the law courts are being used to sideline him -- a charge denied by the authorities.

In recent years, several other prominent opponents of the president have had their political careers cut short by legal cases.

The next presidential elections have been scheduled for February 25, 2024, authorities also announced on Thursday.