January 28, 2012 / 8:13 AM / 8 years ago

Senegal opposition urges more 'resistance' after riots

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal’s opposition called on Saturday for more “resistance” against President Abdoulaye Wade, after a night of riots over his plans to run for a third term in elections next month.

Anti-government protestors run from tear gas in Dakar January 27, 2012. Street protests spread through towns across Senegal overnight on Saturday after a top legal body said President Abdoulaye Wade had the right to run for a third term in elections next month. Picture taken January 27, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Local media reported that one policeman was killed during the riots, in which protesters threw rocks, overturned cars and burned tyres and security forces fired tear gas, raising worries of growing instability in West Africa’s most peaceful nation.

Calm had returned to the capital Dakar by morning and security boosted around the presidential palace. Truckloads of police in full riot gear patrolled the city, armed with tear gas grenade launchers, according to a Reuters witness.

“We are asking the people to remain alert and to resist Abdoulaye Wade,” Abdoul Aziz Diop, the spokesman for opposition activist movement M23 told Reuters by telephone on Saturday. “If Wade tries to impose himself on us ... we will resist.”

He said that opposition figures and activist leaders were meeting on Saturday to discuss their next steps.

The clashes came after Senegal’s top legal body late on Friday night validated the candidacy of 85-year-old Wade and 13 rivals for the February 26 vote, but turned down the presidential bid of world music star Youssou N’Dour, saying he did not have the required 10,000 signatures of support.

Wade’s rivals say the constitution sets an upper limit of two terms on the president. But Wade, who came to power in 2000 and was re-elected in 2007, has argued his first term pre-dated the 2001 amendment establishing the limit.

Wade appeared on state television late on Friday and made an appeal for calm, promising elections would be free and fair.

“Stop these displays of petulance which will lead to nothing,” he said. “The electoral campaign will be open. There will be no restrictions on freedom.”

Senegal is the only country in mainland West Africa to have not had a coup since the end of the colonial era. February’s poll, and a possible run-off a few weeks later, are seen as a test of social cohesion in the predominantly Muslim country.

Critics say that Wade, who spent 26 years in opposition to Socialist rule, has done nothing during his 12 years in power to alleviate poverty in a country where formal employment is scarce, and has dragged his heels on tackling official graft.

Wade points to spending on education and infrastructure projects such as roadbuilding as proof of progress towards turning Senegal into an emerging market country and a trade hub.

His candidacy has raised eyebrows abroad. The senior U.S. State Department official for Africa, William Fitzgerald, told French RFI radio that Wade’s candidacy was “a bit regrettable”.

Rival presidential hopeful Amsatou Sow Sidibe called on Wade to withdraw his candidacy voluntarily. “Peace and tranquility in Senegal depends on it,” she told Reuters by telephone.

Local television said one policeman died from head injuries after clashes in the capital Dakar late on Friday, but this could not be independently confirmed. Reuters reporters saw youths set fire to tyres and overturn cars.

One witness said a police station in the central town of Kaolack had been ransacked, while state radio said the local headquarters of Wade’s liberal PDS had been burned down. Street protests were also reported in the towns of Thies and Mbour.

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