Senegal's opposition leader Sonko calls for more protests after release

A demonstrator holds up a Senegalese flag during protests against the arrest of opposition leader and former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko in Dakar, Senegal, on March 5, 2021.
A demonstrator holds up a Senegalese flag during protests against the arrest of opposition leader and former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko in Dakar, Senegal, on March 5, 2021. © Leo Correa, AP

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Monday called for "much larger" protests in the West African state, but urged that they be peaceful, following days of unrest that threatened to erode the country's reputation as one of region's most stable democracies.

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Sonko was speaking at a press conference in the capital Dakar, convened after days of deadly nationwide clashes sparked by his arrest last week.

Five people, including a schoolboy, have been killed in the unrest, the worst violence in years in a country usually seen as a beacon of stability in a volatile region.

Sonko appeared before the court in Dakar on Monday to answer questions about a rape charge, which he said was politically motivated, and was then released under judicial supervision, his lawyer told FRANCE 24.

Schools in the capital have been ordered closed for a week, as the opposition calls for fresh protests.

The unrest has alarmed the United Nations and Senegal's neighbours, who have appealed for all sides to show restraint.

President Macky Sall, who was yet to publicly address the situation, appealed for calm and restraint in a televised address later on Monday.

The 59-year-old president urged Senegalese people to "silence our bitterness and avoid the logic of confrontation which leads to the worst". 

Foreign embassies appeal for calm

Sonko, 46, a fierce critic of the governing elite in Senegal, was arrested on Wednesday on charges of disturbing public order.

Scuffles between opposition supporters and security forces had broken out while Sonko was on his way to court in Dakar to answer the separate rape charge.

People torched cars, looted shops and hurled stones at police during the protests, which have highlighted longstanding grievances over living standards and economic exclusion in the West African state.

Clashed had abated by Saturday, but the call from the opposition to take to the streets again has led to concerns the violence could escalate.

Ahead of the new protests, 19 foreign embassies in Dakar – including those of the United States, the European Union and France – issued a joint statement on Sunday urging non-violence and dialogue.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States also called for a peaceful solution to tensions, noting that it had "significant concerns".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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