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Senegal: religious leader calls on opposition leader Sonko to end hunger strike

Senegal: religious leader calls on opposition leader Sonko to end hunger strike
Ousmane Sonko making a press statement at the HLM basic ...   -  
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An influential Senegalese religious leader has called on opposition politician Ousmane Sonko, who has been detained since the end of July, to end his hunger strike, adding his voice to numerous calls for him to do so in the light of news about his state of health.

Mr Sonko, whose power struggle with the authorities and the judiciary has kept Senegal on tenterhooks for more than two years, began his hunger strike on 30 July. He has been in hospital since 6 August and was admitted last week to intensive care, according to his lawyers.

Many have expressed concern for his health, while others are calling for his release.

One of his lawyers, Ciré Clédor Ly, has reported a serious deterioration in his condition, preventing his defenders and personal doctor from seeing him. He called for his urgent release in view of the "imminent risk to his life".

A delegation from the coalition to which Mr Sonko belongs was received on Tuesday by the head of the powerful Mouride brotherhood, the Khalifa General Serigne Mountakha Mbacké. The Khalifa asked him to pass on to Mr Sonko his appeal for him to start eating again, said a member of the delegation on condition of anonymity. He had dates sent to Mr Sonko, the same source said.

Religious leaders often play the role of political mediators.

Mr Sonko has been battling with the authorities since 2021, when he was implicated in an affair of indecency. He cries conspiracy to keep him out of the February 2024 presidential election.Mr Sonko was given a six-month suspended prison sentence in May for defamation of a minister, and a two-year prison sentence in June for "corruption of youth" in the vice case. He was imprisoned at the end of July on various charges, including calling for insurrection, criminal conspiracy in connection with a terrorist undertaking and undermining state security.

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The government holds him responsible for various deadly episodes of protest to which his situation has given rise since 2021, the most serious of which occurred in June.At this stage, his presidential candidacy seems unrealistic.

This week, a group of 142 people - allies of Mr Sonko, former ministers, academics, lawyers and journalists from Senegal and abroad - published an appeal to President Macky Sall to intervene to secure the release of Mr Sonko and those arrested in connection with the protests. They say they are committed to "democratic gains" and "concerned (...) about the threats to civil harmony".

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