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Trial of Senegalese opposition leader postponed

Ousmane Sonko speaks to journalists while his convoy stops on the way to his trial in Dakar on March 16, 2023.   -  
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GUY PETERSON/AFP or licensors


The hearing of Senegal’s main opposition leader Thursday (Mar. 16) sparked unrest across the country.

Ousmane Sonko's journey to court -- under heavy police escort -- was itself fraught with clashes.

The judge eventually postponed the hearing until March 30.

 A decision welcomed by Sonko's lawyers.

"Everyone knows that Ousmane was under house arrest [Editor's note: Ousmane Sonko was barricaded by police on eve of trial]. So it was impossible for him to go out to see his Burkinabe council. And it was also impossible for my colleagues to visit his home," lawyer Joseph Etienne Ndione told reporters.

"And that’s what was the obstacle, beyond the file he had, that he wasn't able to meet his client, talk with him. That would have been a reason for dismissal."

Police fired tear gas in several parts of Dakar to disperse protesters on the third day of demonstrations in support of Sonko, who finished third in the last presidential election and is seen as a leading contender in next year's vote.

Some protesters set fire to buses belonging to Senegal's national public transport company and targeted French shop Auchan. Unrest also was reported in the city of Thies, 68 kilometres (42 miles) east of the capital, as well as in the southern towns of Ziguinchor and Bignona and in Saint-Louis in the country's north.

2024 presidential race

Sonko maintains his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy in the 2024 election. The opposition figure has urged Sall to say publicly that he will not seek a third term in office.

"The face of Senegal is the dictatorship of Macky with police repression," Sonko told journalists Thursday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, a convoy of opposition supporters spent more than a hour making its way between Sonko's home and the courthouse, where he was to appear in connection with a civil lawsuit against him by Senegal's tourism minister for alleged defamation.

In a separate matter, Sonko is also facing rape charges after a female massage salon employee came forward and accused him of assault. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president. No date is set for this trial.

Thursday marks the second time in a month that Senegalese authorities have forcibly removed Sonko from his vehicle, saying his movements caused disruption. 

In 2021, days of deadly protests erupted after Sonko was arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to the courthouse for a scheduled appearance in the rape case. At least 13 people died during the worst violence to rock Senegal in years.

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