- Abdoulaye Wade - elections - Senegal - unrest
Opposition vow to keep fighting Wade
Opposition figures vowed to continue mounting protests against President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term in office, calling for a prayer gathering on Friday to remember victims of the violence that has swept the country in recent days.
AFP - Senegal's opposition on Thursday promised fresh protests in coming days as President Abdoulaye Wade derided their resistance to his bid for a third term as a "light breeze".
The anti-Wade June 23 Movement (M23) called for a prayer meeting in central Dakar on Friday for those killed during protests against President Abdoulaye Wade's candidacy for a third presidential term in February 26 polls.
M23 also urged its supporters to "be ready for peaceful protests to be held across the country in the coming days."
The West has distanced itself from its erstwhile ally amid rising violence in one of Africa's most stable nations.
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said she was disturbed by reports that police in Senegal used "excessive force" against anti-government protestors ahead of a February 26 election.
M23 protests to force Wade to withdraw his candidacy have descended into riots, leaving four people dead since Friday when the country's highest court said Wade can run in the elections despite already having served two terms.
Wade argues he can serve another two seven-year terms from 2012 because a constitutional cap was only introduced in 2008, after his latest reelection.
On Thursday protesters marched peacefully in the northern city of Saint-Louis.
Government has brushed off opposition threats of mass resistance, saying the turnout, around 10,000 witnesses say, showed a lack of support.
"A breeze is a light wind which rustles the leaves of a tree, but never becomes a hurricane," Wade said Wednesday during a ceremony in Dakar.
The comments headlined in several daily newspapers and were confirmed by Wade's spokesman for the electoral campaign El Hadj Amadou Sall.
"The president was commenting on threats by the opposition who said their march would be the final assault on the presidential palace," Sall told AFP Thursday.
Wade has previously dismissed the opposition's campaign of mass resistance as "temper tantrums."
On Thursday private newspapers headlined with the "desertion" of Wade by western nations after France and the United States spoke out against his candidacy.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Wednesday said the country "wished a generational change could be organised," in the first sign the former colonial master would prefer Wade step down.
Following riots in June last year, Juppe warned that Wade's insistence on seeking a third term could "produce the same effects" as seen in Libya, where leader Moamer Kadhafi was overthrown in a popular uprising.
Paris echoed earlier calls from Washington which urged Wade, in office since 2000, to allow power to pass "to the next generation."
UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Thursday joined the chorus of international criticism.
"The country's strong tradition of peaceful, democratic elections could be jeopardised if the authorities mishandle the ongoing protests," she warned in a statement.
Senegal's Foreign Minister Madicke Niang told journalists that while Senegal was open to advice, it would not "take lessons in democracy from anyone."
"The election will not take place neither in the United States, nor France, nor anywhere else," he said.
Wade said his supporters "know very well these current agitations don't seem to be affecting the Senegalese."
"I hope I will still be here next year to further prove my ambitions for you," Wade said.
His comments came as analysts warned Senegal was ripe for an "African Spring" in the style of uprisings which have spread through the Arab world, if the opposition managed to mobilise.
"The entire world and indeed former leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya grossly under-estimated the power of citizen action ... The same attitude from President Wade may just turn out to be his greatest undoing," said David Kode, a Johannesburg-based analyst and West Africa expert.
In bustling Dakar it was business as usual after student clashes with police on Wednesday which followed the death of a fellow student during a rally on Tuesday night. The 32-year-old was run over by a vehicle.
Government appealed in a statement Thursday for "restraint", condemning violence which broke out during the protest.