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Presidential hopes darken for Senegal's Sonko

Presidential hopes darken for Senegal's Sonko   -  
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Senegalese opposition figure Ousmane Sonko's presidential plans have been blighted by a fresh barrage of criminal charges and the dissolution of his party ahead of next February's elections.

The firebrand politician, President Macky Sall's fiercest critic, has faced a string of legal woes, which he claims have been designed to keep him out of politics.

"It is impossible for Ousmane Sonko to stand in the presidential election", political analyst Abdou Ndukur Kacc Ndao said.

He said Sonko's PASTEF party does not have the political means necessary for Sonko to run.

He also said he worried there would be a "hunt" for other party members, who could face persecution as well.

Two people were killed Monday during protests in southern Senegal after Sonko's indictment.

The 49-year-old politician, who is popular among young Senegalese, was formally charged Monday with calling for insurrection, undermining state security, criminal association with a terrorist body and other crimes.

His lawyers say he could face between five and 20 years in prison.

- Convictions -

The charges laid on Monday are just the latest in a string of court cases Sonko has faced in recent years.

On June 1 he was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison for morally corrupting a young woman, a verdict that made him ineligible to contest the February 2024 presidential election.

His sentencing sparked fatal clashes that left at least 16 dead.

And an appeals court on May 8 gave him a six-month suspended sentence in a defamation case.

On Monday, the interior minister announced that Sonko's party would be dissolved in a statement issued less than two hours after his indictment.

It said the party had "frequently" called for insurrection, leading to destruction and the loss of life.

The party slammed the move, saying in a statement that the country's stability was "now compromised", and that the dissolution was "anti-democratic".

Earlier, Sonko had said on social media that "if the Senegalese people, for whom I have always fought, abdicate and decide to leave me in the hands of Macky Sall's regime, I will submit, as always, to divine will".

He had previously claimed no one could block him from running for president.

- Cracks in the coalition -

"This judicial decision that's struck Ousmane Sonko could sound the death knell for his presidential ambitions in view of the February 2024 election, for which he has been a candidate for a long time", wrote commentator Momar Dieng in a blog post.

"Not only could he lose his electoral eligibility, which would then exclude him from the presidential election, but (he could) also find himself still in prison during the electoral campaign and the said ballot."

In recent months, hundreds of members of Sonko's party have been arrested, including senior officials within the party who are still in prison.

The arrests have weakened the party, analysts said.

Cracks also appeared in the coalition of which PASTEF is a member.

The party boycotted a political dialogue held in late May between President Sall and other parties.

Following the dialogue, Sall promised to change the electoral code to permit two other opponents to run.

Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall had been blocked from contesting the 2019 election due to court convictions of their own.

"The man on whom the PASTEF had bet is on the margins", said Thierno Souleymane Diop Niang, a political science and international relations researcher.

"It's time for those who supported him to readapt by choosing other personalities who can carry this project forward".

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