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Fears of fresh violence ahead of rival marches

Both supporters and opponents of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade (pictured) plan to hit the streets Saturday, raising fears of new violence. The demonstrations come one month after a clash between police and protesters left over 100 injured.

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AFP - Two mass rallies by opponents and supporters of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade's regime planned Saturday have raised fears of fresh violence a month after riots plunged Dakar into chaos.

Tensions are heightened in the west African country, long lauded as a relative oasis of calm in a troubled region, as Wade, 85, presses ahead with plans to run for a third term which his critics say is unconstitutional.

"With the regime mobilising all its security forces to protect a meeting where it is expecting half a million people on one side, and an opposition supported by civil society and popular movements on the other, the worst is to be feared," read an article on news website Dakaractu Thursday.

The protests come one month to the day after riots broke out as parliament examined proposed changes to election laws later shelved under pressure from the street and harsh criticism from abroad.

Over 100 were injured as riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of protesters, some hurling stones, in the biggest demonstrations since Wade came to power in 2000.

The proposed changes would have added a vice president to the presidential ticket and dropped the winning threshold for a first-round victory to 25 percent of votes from the current 50 percent.

Wade's critics believe he is trying to smooth the way for his son Karim Wade, 42 -- seen as too unpopular to win on his own ticket -- to succeed him without having to run for office himself.

Days later government buildings were torched in a spontaneous protest against crippling power cuts, which sometimes last for days in the west African nation.

On Wednesday night, Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom issued a decree banning political protests in downtown Dakar, forcing organisers to move their rally.

"To appease (the situation), we agree to move the protest to the Place de l'Obelisque" in a popular suburb of Dakar, said Alioune Tine, a leader of the June 23 Movement (M23), a coalition of opposition and civil society organisations formed after the riots.

At the same time the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) is to hold a large rally attended by Wade, in front of its headquarters.

Wade was pilloried by his critics for being out of touch with his people in an address to the nation on July 14 where he pushed ahead with his candidature and proposed an early poll, saying "there will be no winner but me."

Wade was first elected for a seven-year term in 2000 and again in 2007 for a five-year mandate after a constitutional change shortened the presidential term. Constitutionally a president can only serve two mandates.

However Wade's supporters say this provision only came into play after the change in the law and so he is entitled to another term in office.

Pape Demba Sy, one of the leaders of M23, said they would press on until Wade "gave up his candidature for a third term."

"We have taken all measures so that the protest goes well, we want everything to go off calmly," he said, adding they would not accept attempts to ban the gathering.

While other parts of west Africa have lengthy histories of coups in the post-colonial era, Senegal has stood out as a stable democracy.

 

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