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Thousands rally in Dakar for new anti-Wade protests

Thousands of opposition supporters marched in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Tuesday to protest against President Abdoulaye Wade's controversial plans to seek a third term in a February 26 presidential election.


AFP - Thousands of Senegalese opposition supporters marched through central Dakar Tuesday to ratchet up the pressure for President Abdoulaye Wade to abandon his bid for a controversial third term in office.

The 85-year-old president's camp planned to strike back later Tuesday with a gathering outside the presidential palace, one of his electoral campaign managers said, without giving further details.

Several thousand opposition supporters began a march outside Dakar university, and had planned to make their way to the interior ministry which is a few blocks away from the presidential palace.

However the government has banned the protesters from entering the suburb where the interior ministry is located, said Cheikh Tidiane Dieye, a leader of the anti-Wade June 23 Movement (M23).

Senegalese music icon Youssou Ndour, whose bid to stand in the February 26 presidential election was rejected by the west African state's top court, was at the march along with several opposition candidates.

Dozens of police were out keeping a close watch on the march, the latest in a wave of protests in the run-up to the election in a country generally regarded as one of Africa's most stable democracies.

Opposition protests last week descended into riots, leaving four people dead as tension flared over Wade's third term candidacy which the opposition says is unconstitutional.

The Constitutional Council on January 27 upheld Wade's assertion that changes to the constitution in 2008 meant he could run again despite having served two terms already.

The opposition has vowed to force Wade to withdraw and the leader, who has styled himself as a pan-African statesman, has received little sympathy from his erstwhile western allies.

Both the United States and France have expressed disappointment in his plans to run again, and urged a generational change in the country's highest office.

Wade, who says he needs another term to fulfill his promise to turn Senegal into a developed nation, has heaped scorn both on opposition protests and those from abroad.

"I do not seek the interest of the toubabs (Westerners), but that of the Senegalese people," he said Sunday at the launch of the election campaign.

Eight opposition candidates as well as Ndour have decided to wage a common campaign for the vote.

uring an M23 meeting on Monday, one of the candidates, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Wade's former foreign minister, said if the president took part in the vote the opposition would refuse to recognise him.

"If Abdoulaye Wade persists, we will not recognise him, nor recognise his government and we will organise a campaign for the recognition of a national transition council which we will create," he said.

He also suggested the holding of a parallel election among opposition candidates.

"The only way to serve Senegal with honour and dignity is to oppose Abdoulaye Wade's unconstitutional candidacy to the end."

Wade was first elected in 2000 after 25 years in opposition.

But initial euphoria over his election has given way to fatigue over corruption, electricity cuts, rising fuel and food prices while Wade focuses on big legacy construction projects using what a US diplomatic cable published on Wikileaks refers to as "pie in the sky" rhetoric.

He is also accused of trying to groom his son Karim Wade as his successor.

Elections Minister Cheikh Gueye's ministry meanwhile said that election material such as ballot papers had arrived for the poll in which some five million voters will choose among 14 candidates.

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