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Senegal: armed men in civilian clothes spread terror during the clashes

Senegal: armed men in civilian clothes spread terror during the clashes
A riot police officer fires tear gas during a demonstration on the campus ....   -  
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Leo Correa/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.


In Senegal, videos and testimonies are multiplying: men in civilian clothes got out of pick-ups, armed, and chased demonstrators during the unrest following the conviction of opponent Ousmane Sonko.

On Saturday, a white pick-up truck entered the Guinaw Rails Nord district, in the suburbs of Dakar, with "a dozen armed people" in street clothes on board, said Ndery Niang, a sheep seller who attended. at the scene. "They had a list of young people they said were part of the protesters and they went after them".

At least three young people from the neighbourhood had been killed the day before. The video showing Bassilou Sarr , 31, killed by a bullet in the head according to several witnesses, was broadcast in the area.

Another witness who withheld his name, because he fears for his safety, confirms Ndery Niang's account. "I hate and I'm afraid", he admits, "we know that there are moles" .

part of mystery

The violence that rocked Senegal from June 1 to 3 holds an element of mystery, starting with the circumstances in which 16 people were killed and by whom. Power and opposition point the finger at the camp opposite. In any case, various witnesses met by AFP report the presence in the clashes of unidentifiable men carrying weapons.

A young man questioned at the hospital where he was admitted after being injured in Pikine, one of the centers of the eruption, also in the Dakar suburbs, said he found himself in the middle of the clashes while he was traveling in cart.

"I saw a young man on the ground, injured. I stopped and that's where I saw a dozen men in civilian clothes chasing the demonstrators ," he said. "They carried guns or bladed weapons" .

Political Showdown

He was shot behind the thigh. The shooter was identified by others as a wrestler, he said. Followers of traditional wrestling have already been called into question in the past for playing henchmen in contexts of political confrontation .

The violence erupted after Mr. Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison in a sex scandal. He is currently ineligible for the 2024 presidential election.

The pro-Sonko accuse the presidential camp of having paid "thugs" traveling in pick-ups to lend a hand to the police and gendarmes and subdue the protesters. Police and gendarmes have themselves been accused of brutality by rights defenders. Unconfirmed footage has circulated showing police using civilians as human shields to protect themselves from projectiles.

The battle of images rages on

The government and police have shown footage of armed men they claim are protesters. The government blames "occult forces" , "foreigners" who want to destabilize the country, without further details.

Interviewed by AFP, Maham Ka, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said that some police officers work in civilian clothes but added that he could not say more for security reasons. "I don't know these people in the pick-ups. I can't confirm that they work with the police ," he said.

In the past, politicians have recruited thugs for their protection, observes political analyst Ibrahima Bakhoum. "The Senegalese political landscape has always been violent but this violence has never reached the current level. We now see real gangs recruited in the neighborhoods by people who have the means", he declares .

More than a dozen white pick-ups were parked in Dakar on Saturday in front of the headquarters of the presidential party, the Alliance for the Republic .

Prevent breakers

Dozens of young people came to blows in the building to receive money. Two of them told AFP they were paid to prevent protesters from breaking up, but said they were unarmed.

Amnesty International is seeking to authenticate the multiple videos featuring armed individuals in civilian clothes, says Samira Daoud, the NGO's regional director. They "often act alongside or under the eyes of the security forces" , she says. They circulate in the same vehicle models as those observed in front of the APR, she notes.

She calls for investigations because "the chain of responsibility must be clearly established" .

The government said it had opened investigations into the events. He had announced investigations after the bout of fever in March 2021, already around the person of Mr. Sonko. There had been at least 12 deaths. Rights advocates say they are still waiting for the results.

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