DAKAR, Jan 28 – Riots erupted in Dakar Friday night, leaving a policeman dead, as angry protesters took to the streets after a court cleared President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a highly disputed third term in office.,
The west African nation’s Constitutional Council gave the 85-year-old the green light to run in February 26 polls, sparking anger among opponents who accuse him of fiddling with the constitution to serve his own interests.
Amid the resulting unrest, Wade in turn told his opponents to stop throwing “temper tantrums”.
The five-judge council rejected the candidacy of music icon Youssou Ndour, who warned of rising tension in the country and vowed to challenge his disqualification.
While the international community appealed for calm in one of Africa’s most stable democracies, violence spread through the seaside capital Friday night as rioters engaged in running battles with police, setting alight tyres and shops.
“They killed a policeman,” Dakar police commissioner Arona Sy told AFP of clashes between police and demonstrators, without saying how he died.
Thousands had gathered peacefully at the Place de l’Obelisque in the working class suburb of Colobane all day ahead of Friday’s highly anticipated ruling.
However, shortly after the announcement, tensions rose and police lobbed teargas at stone-throwing protesters who dispersed to set up barricades and burn tyres along the city’s main arteries.
“I see fires, it is impossible to pass. There are fires in Sacre-Coeur (central), on the VDN” a main road leading to the north of the capital, a witness driving through the city told AFP.
The June 23 Movement of opposition against Wade’s candidacy, which called Friday’s rally, appealed to Senegalese to march on the presidential palace in downtown Dakar to “remove Wade who is squatting there.”
The Constitutional Council approved 13 other candidates including three ex-prime ministers, Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Moustapha Niasse, and main opposition leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
Ndour, who shocked the music world when he announced this month he was quitting singing for politics, was left off the list with the council saying thousands of signatures he provided could not be verified. A minimum of 10,000 were needed.
The singer warned in an interview with France 3 television that the approval of Wade’s bid “is going to create tension.”
“The opposition in its great majority does not support any fiddling with the constitution,” said the singer, adding the Senegalese people were “tired” of politicians flouting the law.
The ruling seals months of speculation over the interpretation of the constitution on presidential mandates.
Wade was first elected in 2000 for a seven-year mandate, and re-elected in 2007 under a new constitution for a five-year mandate.
He again revised the text in 2008, reverting to a seven-year mandate, renewable once.
Wade argues that the law does not apply retroactively and that he is allowed to run again.
Rights activists have warned against a repetition of violent riots in June last year, and clashes between rival parties in December that left one person dead.
Amnesty International has warned the “potential for destabilisation is huge”, and urged political leaders to make sure their supporters did not resort to violence.
On Friday, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) appealed for calm and restraint in a statement expressing “serious concern for the rising tensions among political parties and citizens.”
Wade, a veteran opposition figure who dislodged the Socialist Party after 40 years of rule in 2000 elections, on his fifth shot at the presidency, has grown increasingly unpopular as he attempts to cling to power.
He has faced criticism over corruption, financial scandals and nepotism, with many accusing him of trying to position his son Karim Wade, 44, as his successor.
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal on Thursday: “It is up to everyone to prove their responsibility. The future of Senegal is at stake in these elections.”
US deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, William Fitzgerald, said Monday that Wade’s bid to stay in office was “regrettable”.
Senegal has long been seen as a good example of democracy in Africa, with previous leaders Leopold Sedar Senghor and Abdou Diouf peacefully handing over power.
Unlike many countries in the region, Senegal has never experienced a military coup.