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Senegal's top opposition leader vows to help win March 24 election

Bassirou Diomaye Faye, front, wearing white cap, greets supporters during his electoral campaign caravan in Dakar, Senegal, late Friday, March 15, 2024.   -  
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Sylvain Cherkaoui/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

Senegal politics

Top opposition leader Ousmane Sonko vowed Friday to help his team win Senegal's March 24 presidential election even though he is barred from the ballot, jumping into the campaign in his first public address since being freed from prison a day earlier.

Ousmane Sonko’s release late Thursday after months behind bars triggered a mix of jubilation and political uncertainty on the streets of the capital, Dakar.

Thousands took to the streets in celebration, reinvigorating enthusiasm for the election that will decide whether the West African country can remain a stable democracy in a region that has experienced a wave of coups and attempted coups.

A charismatic former tax collector and mayor of the southern city of Ziguinchor, Sonko is seen as as the main challenger to President Macky Sall’s governing party.

His key ally, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, who was also freed from prison late Thursday, has been named the opposition’s presidential candidate.

Their release follows Sall’s decree to exonerate political prisoners, including hundreds arrested in the violent protests last year.

“What has to be done will be done. The only victory will not be the one we win on 24 March... it will be at the end of our first term in office, and we'll see what Senegalese people think of what we've done,” Sonko said at a news conference.

In his brief message, Sonko restated some of the key tenets of his campaign: the need to fight corruption in the government and to protect Senegal's economy from the influence of foreign powers.

The protests have once again rocked Senegal’s image as a pillar of stability in West Africa. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, it has held regular elections and never experienced a coup, unlike many other nations in the Sahel region.

Following Sonko's release Thursday night, Dakar was thronged with thousands of people singing and dancing as convoys of supporters drove around tooting horns and young people piled onto motorbikes and trucks.