Protesters on the move in Dakar on Friday
Dakar (AFP) - Senegalese security forces on Friday used tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital amidst mounting anger over the postponement of a presidential election.
Anti-riot police kept back people trying to get to the Place de la Nation in central Dakar, where a rally had been planned.
Some demonstrators threw stones and set fire to tyres as the square was closed off, AFP journalists saw.
“The situation is deplorable. We came to pray and we got gassed. It’s intolerable,” Thierno Alassane Sall, one of the 20 candidates who had been due to vie for the presidency, told AFP.
Police used teargas to disperse the demonstrators
Clashes spread to other areas of the capital, forcing market traders to close. Demonstrations also took place in other towns, according to social network reports.
Police also dispersed a protest by about 200 people in Nioro du Rip, some 250 kilometres (150 miles) east of Dakar.
- Unprecedented move-
Protests were called after President Macky Sall postponed the scheduled presidential election on February 25 by 10 months.
Parliament backed the move, after security forces stormed the chanmber and removed some opposition deputies, sparking a fierce opposition backlash and international concern.
The crisis has called into question the West African country’s reputation for democratic stability in a region beset by military coups. The United States and European Union have called on the government to stick to the original election timetable.
Teachers were urged to walk out by education unions within the civil society platform Aar Sunu Election (Let’s Protect Our Election).
At Blaise Diagne high school in Dakar, hundreds of pupils left their lessons after teachers heeded the call.
History and geography teacher Assane Sene said it was just the start of the battle.
“If the government is stubborn, we will have to try different approaches,” he said.
- Back down? -
At the Masjidounnour mosque in Dakar, only a handful of worshippers followed a call to dress in white and the national colours.
A protester shouts slogans during the clashes with police in Dakara
“The message hasn’t got through enough. But the situation in the country is deplorable, nobody’s happy,” 37-year-old Amadou Sy told AFP before Friday’s main Muslim prayer.
In his sermon, Imam Ahmed Dame Ndiaye railed against the political situation.
“Even the president can make mistakes, and in that case it’s up to us to tell him the truth”, he said, adding that “nobody has the right to watch society being destroyed”.
The vote by MPs to delay the presidential election paves the way for Sall – whose second term expires in early April – to remain in office until his successor is installed, probably in 2025.
A new date for the presidential election has been set for December 15.
The opposition has condemned Sall’s move as a “constitutional coup”.
On Friday, 14 opposition candidates lodged an appeal against the move with the Supreme Court.
But Sall is showing no signs of backing down, said Sidy Diop, deputy editor of Le Soleil daily. However, he added that the head of state is “in a very bad position”.
If civil society and the opposition “manage to impose a balance of power unfavourable to the government and rally the international community, the president may then back down”, he added.
- Pressure, outcry -
International pressure may also have an impact, according to Alassane Beye, a lecturer-researcher at the University of Saint-Louis.
Senegal's President Macky Sall has said he won't run for a third term in office
The outcry had until now only materialised into sporadic reaction on the streets.
Protests usually require authorisation and security forces have quashed demonstrations and arrested dozens of people.
Rights advocates say authorities have routinely banned opposition demonstrations.
Since 2021, dozens of people have been killed and hundreds arrested during episodes of unrest in the country.
Sall said on Saturday he postponed the election because of a dispute between parliament and the Constitutional Council over potential candidates who were not allowed to stand.
After months of speculation that he was considering running for a third term, Sall said in July he would not stand again and has repeated that commitment several times.