Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko holds noisy but peaceful protest

Senegal’s opposition leader Ousmane Sonko led a protest by banging pots and pans after authorities blocked a rally where he planned to publicly announce his candidacy for the upcoming presidential elections.

Dressed in red to symbolize his anger, Sonko emerged outside his residence on Saturday evening to kick off the protest, engaging in symbolic pot-banging for several minutes.

The 49-year-old politician had been unanimously chosen as the candidate for the PASTEF-Patriots party in the presidential elections scheduled for February 25, 2024, according to an official statement.

Despite facing criminal convictions and prison sentences, Sonko, who has been under house arrest in Dakar since May 28, pressed ahead with his nomination.

Numerous people joined the noisy protest across several districts of the capital city, Dakar, as well as in major towns like Ziguinchor in the south and Mbacke in the center, as reported by local media.

Malick Diedhiou, a supporter of Sonko, participated in the protest in the Parcelles Assainies area of Dakar, aiming to “send a message of peace” and express dissatisfaction with the state’s actions against Sonko, which he deemed illegal.

The governor of Dakar had prohibited the party’s nomination rally, citing the potential for public order disturbance.

Sonko assured his supporters that an alternative date would be chosen for the rally. In the meantime, he called for a peaceful expression of disapproval through a “concert of saucepans, horns, and firecrackers” from 8:30 to 9:00 pm (2030 to 2100 GMT) on Saturday, while urging President Macky Sall to step down peacefully.

“Macky Sall is attempting to eliminate PASTEF and prevent me from becoming a presidential candidate,” Sonko declared on Friday night, urging his supporters to wear red as a symbol of protest.

Sonko has gained a fervent following among disillusioned young people in Senegal, launching a passionate campaign against President Sall, whom he accuses of corruption and aspiring to dictatorship.

Sonko has warned of potential “unimaginable chaos” if he is barred from running for the presidency.

The opposition leader’s convictions in May and June sparked violent clashes between his supporters and security forces, leading to the worst unrest the country has witnessed in years.

On May 8, Sonko received a six-month suspended sentence for slander from an appeals court, although it remains unclear whether this sentence renders him ineligible. It can also be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, on June 1, Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison following a trial on charges of sexually abusing a beauty salon worker.

Legal experts and Sonko’s own lawyers argue that this conviction disqualifies him from being a candidate.

Nevertheless, Sonko reiterated on Friday that he believes he remains eligible for the election despite the ongoing legal proceedings.

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