DAKAR, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Senegalese police sealed off a main square in the capital Dakar and fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators who gathered on Friday in protest against incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid to seek a third term in a Feb. 26 poll.
The police fought running battles with protesters who hurled stones, burned trash and set up barricades along avenues in the city centre, forcing businesses to close for the afternoon.
Some protesters evaded police by taking refuge in a mosque, joining the Friday faithful in prayer and stopping the police in their tracks.
Opposition leaders, along with civil society organisation M-23 and youth rap group “Y’en a marre” - French slang for “enough is enough” - say Wade’s bid breaches rules setting a two-term presidential limit.
They have threatened to make the country ungovernable if Wade refuses to step down.
The octogenarian Wade, who has also come under pressure from abroad to step down, has said that his first term should not be counted as limits were introduced in 2001, after he had already begun his time in power.
At least four people have been killed in street clashes since last month when Wade’s candidacy was validated by the West African nation’s top legal body. World leaders have called on all sides to show restraint, warning that the West African nation’s democratic credentials are at stake.
“This is proof that a dictatorship is gradually being installed in Senegal,” said Idrissa Seck, a former prime minister in Wade’s government who is one of more than a dozen presidential hopefuls.
Seck was prevented by police from entering the square and joining the protest, which had been banned by the government. Another opposition candidate Cheikh Bamba Dieye said police hurled a stun grenade into his car when he also tried to enter the square, injuring two aides.
Reuters reporters saw several wounded including a policewoman being taken away by ambulance.
Leaders of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, meeting in Nigeria on Friday, said they would send a joint mission with the African Union, headed by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, to engage Senegalese politicians in dialogue.
The Feb. 26 election and a possible run-off a few weeks later are seen as a test of social cohesion in the predominantly Muslim country, the only one in mainland West Africa not to have had a coup since the end of the colonial era. (Additional reporting by Bate Felix and Joe Penny; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Andrew Roche)