Senegal Opposition Leader Alleges Assassination Attempt As Protests Flare

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko (file photo).

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko claimed Monday to have survived an assassination attempt during his appearance at a politically charged trial that has sparked unrest. Meanwhile, President Macky Sall has rejected claims that it would be unconstitutional for him to seek a controversial third mandate.

Sonko, a fierce opponent of President Macky Sall, has been receiving medical treatment since he was allegedly sprayed with tear gas and manhandled while authorities escorted him to a courthouse on Thursday.

In a Facebook post that evening, Sonko said he was suffering "terrible dizziness", lower abdominal pain and breathing difficulties.

"We sent the product that was sprayed on me to France to find out what it was," Sonko said from a private clinic in the capital Dakar on Monday.

"It is an assassination attempt," he added.

The authorities have not responded to the allegation.

Violence, arrests

Violence has flared in several cities since the opposition leader's trial opened last Thursday and more than 400 people have been arrested, according to El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, head of communications for Sonko's Pastef party.

Sonko is being tried for allegedly defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang, a member of President Sall's party.

Convictions in either the defamation trial, which has been postponed until 30 March, or a separate 2021 rape case that has not gone to court, could prevent Sonko from contesting the 2024 election.

Sall has denied Sonko's accusation that the judiciary is being used to exclude him from the vote.

In the town of Bignona, a Sonko stronghold in the south, a young man was shot dead, Yankhoba Dieme, president of a local departmental council, told French news agency AFP, with an administrative official confirming the demonstrator's death.

A firebrand speaker who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, Sonko enjoys support from young people. His detractors accuse him of being a populist.

A political debate

Macky Sall has rejected claims that it would be unconstitutional for him to seek a third mandate. He refused to confirm whether he plans to do so in an interview published Monday.

The opposition claims that Senegal's constitution prohibits Sall, who was elected in 2012 and again in 2019, from running in the next election, scheduled for February 2024.

Senegal's constitution was revised in 2016 to shorten presidential terms to five years from seven. It states that "no one can exercise more than two consecutive terms".

In an interview with French magazine L'Express posted online Monday, Sall argued that when the Constitutional Council was consulted before the revision, it considered his first term to be outside the scope of the reform.

"Legally speaking, the debate has been settled for a long time," he said in the interview.

"Now, should I run for a third term or not? It's a political debate, I admit it.

"I have not yet given my answer. I have an agenda, a job to do. When the time comes, I will make my position known, first to my supporters, then to the Senegalese people."

(With AFP)

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