Senegalese police clashed with demonstrators in Dakar on Friday as they protested against President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial bid for a third term in February 26 elections.
AFP - Senegalese police engaged in running battles with protesters in downtown Dakar Friday as they attempted to stop a planned protest against President Abdoulaye Wade's third-term bid.
Burning tyres, debris and rocks littered the streets around Independence Square as riot police on trucks and foot chased protesters to prevent them from converging there, firing volleys of tear gas throughout the afternoon.
One opposition leader denounced the police violence and promised another protest on Saturday.
Cat-and-mouse battles continued into the night in the seaside capital, leaving several people including a western photographer and local journalist injured, AFP reporters witnessed.
A policeman was seen firing his gun during a scuffle at the Sandaga market, and an AFP journalist found a spent 9mm bullet casing in the street after protesters lobbed rocks at the police during the ongoing battles.
One police officer fell off a truck after being hit by a rock.
The chaos at the market was sparked by the arrival of music superstar Youssou Ndour.
Ndour has been blocked from running in the election himself but has attended most protests and is fiercely critical of 85-year-old Wade.
Police briefly detained opposition presidential candidate Cheikh Bamba Dieye as he attempted to join the protest.
Normally bustling, downtown Dakar cleared out ahead of the protest Friday afternoon, with shopowners closing up and curious residents and office workers looking on from buildings lining the teargas-filled streets.
One young entrepreneur sold masks to those taking part or witnessing to protect them from the fumes. "I don't care, I am for Wade," he told AFP.
"I just want to make some money. Vive Abdoulaye Wade!"
Tension soared again in the late afternoon when teargas was fired into a mosque in Plateau (downtown) also near the Sandaga market, prompting fury among those in the area.
Up to 300 people formed a crowd yelling "Allahou Akbar (God is great)" warning police they were pushing the limit.
A religious leader of the Tidiane brotherhood, Serigne Mansour Jamil accused government of "desecrating Tidiane mosques. By acting this way the whole religious community has been defiled."
"I am saying today, it is time for Wade to go," said Jamil, known as a critic of the president.
The opposition has struggled to get protests off the ground amid government bans and police thwarting their attempts to form a crowd, arresting protesters and dispersing gatherings all week.
M23 coordinator Alioune Tine has denounced the response by riot police to the protests as "completely irrational and dictated by fear".
After calling Friday's protest he said: "On Saturday we will return to the same Independence Square from 11 am. It will be a day of action across the whole country."
Tension has soared nine days ahead of the presidential election, dividing a nation that has long enjoyed a reputation as an African democratic success story.
The opposition says Wade, 85, has fiddled with the interpretation of the constitution to seek another term.
The opposition movement, which includes several presidential candidates, launched a campaign to pressure Wade to step aside after the country's highest court validated his candidacy for a third term on January 27.
As M23 decried the third term bid as unconstitutional, violent protests erupted in Dakar and spread through the west African nation, leaving four dead.
Wade, Africa's second oldest leader after Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, argues that changes to the constitution in 2008 mean he can serve two more mandates.
He has remained defiant, brushing off opposition protests as "temper tantrums" and said he doesn't take advice from Toubabs (westerners) after France and the United States said he should cede power to the next generation.
As the official election campaign kicked off Wade has swept energetically through the country promising universities, roads, airports and massive agricultural projects to win over some five million registered voters.
The 13 opposition contenders failed to find a consensus candidate before the campaign.
Date created : 2012-02-17