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Celebrations after Senegal opposition leader and his candidate freed ahead of presidential election

Supporters celebrate the release of Senegal's top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his key ally Bassirou Diomaye Faye outside Sonko's home in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, Marc   -  
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Sylvain Cherkaoui/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.


Supporters of Senegal’s top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, took to the streets of Dakar early Friday following his release from jail late Thursday, ahead of the presidential election later this month.

Sonko is widely seen as the main challenger to President Macky Sall’s ruling party. He was greeted outside the prison by crowds of supporters waving flags, chanting and holding up posters.

Sonko had been in prison since July and has fought a prolonged legal battle to run for president in the March 24 election. Sonko and his key ally, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, were both set free, his lawyer Bamba Cisse told The Associated Press.

It wasn’t immediately clear how their releases would impact the election. Faye was named the opposition’s election candidate after Sonko was barred from running.

Supporters also gathered at Sonko's house and at other locations in Dakar to celebrate. Convoys of supporters drove around the capital tooting their horns and yelling until late at night.

Faye addressed supporters early Friday, commending their ongoing commitment.

"I would add that throughout my time in prison, I haven't seen or felt any weariness on your part for this fight," he said.

Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, is popular among young people and his fiery campaign to tackle corruption has resonated in a country with economic hardship. The war in Ukraine has pushed up food and energy prices, further straining the economy.

Sall himself ultimately decided not to seek a third term in office after Sonko’s supporters launched months of protests that at times turned deadly.

The protests have rocked Senegal's image as a pillar of stability in West Africa, where dozens of coups and attempted coups have taken place in recent decades.

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