, DAKAR, Jan 29 – Senegal’s opposition called Saturday for popular resistance against President Abdoulaye Wade as the country reeled from riots that erupted after the top court said he could run for a third term.
Local rights bodies and the international community called for calm as the opposition vowed to “remove Wade who is squatting” in the presidential palace in downtown Dakar.
Police arrested Alioune Tine, a senior member of Senegal’s June 23 Movement (M23) opposition movement and dozens of others, activists said, in the wake of riots in which a policeman was killed.
Amath Dansoko, another M23 leader, called for Tine’s “immediate” liberation, while singer Youssou Ndour, whose presidential candidacy was rejected, said he was manhandled by police while making his way to a police station to offer support for the arrested opposition leader.
Seven presidential candidates meanwhile filed challenges to Wade’s bid, their lawyer said.
Violence erupted late Friday after the west African nation’s Constitutional Council gave Wade, 85, the green light to run in February 26 polls, infuriating opponents who accuse him of fiddling with the constitution.
Riot police cordoned off streets around the presidency on Saturday after a night of what local newspapers dubbed “fire and blood” when a mass rally ignited with anger after the announcement.
The streets in flashpoint suburbs were littered with debris after rioters fought running battles with police, overturning and torching cars, setting alight tyres and shops along the city’s main arteries.
Macky Sall, a former prime minister under Wade who is also running in the election, blamed the president for the violence.
“These deplorable events were a result of the fact that Abdoulaye Wade decided to confiscate the will of the Senegalese people through this electoral coup which is under way,” Sall said.
“We are planning to meet to face this oppression through resistance and have called all Senegalese to stand ready to face it, and make every effort to ensure that Wade retracts his candidacy because there is no chance he will take part in the election.”
Sall called for “everything at once: marches, sit-ins, resistance … no violence.”
A youth movement calling itself “Y’en a Marre” (We are fed up) announced in a statement it would organise demonstrations “to confront this abuse of authority until the law is restore and until the candidacy of Abdoulaye Wade is invalidated”.
Wade accused the opposition of “temper trantrums”, and Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom said in a statement that police were investigating the death of policeman Fode Ndiaye, who was “hit on the head by a brick” during the riots.
Police had “intervened to re-establish order” after being attacked by projectile-throwing protesters, he said.
Washington expressed alarm at the latest developments.
The court ruling had “the potential to jeopardise a lot of the achievements” in a nation known for its vibrant democracy, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Washington wanted Wade to step down to pave a way “for a new generation of African leaders and solidifying his own stature as a democrat in this way,” she said during a press briefing on Friday.
The five-judge council unveiled a list of 14 contenders but rejected the candidacy of music icon Ndour who filed an appeal against the decision on Saturday.
When Wade was elected in 2000 for a seven-year mandate there was no term-limit in the constitution. He was re-elected in 2007 after introducing the two-term limit and reducing the mandate to five years.
He again revised the text in 2008, reverting to a seven-year mandate, renewable once. Wade argues that the law is not retroactive so he is entitled to two fresh terms from 2012, but the opposition disagrees.
Wade in turn has questioned the candidacies of two former prime ministers and a former foreign minister.
They needed to prove their financial affairs were in order, he said, according to the national news agency APS.
A joint declaration by Senegalese rights bodies and Amnesty International expressed their “deep concern and fear over the current tension.”
The statement called for calm and political dialogue “to allow a return to serenity and free, fair and peaceful elections.”