Police Fire Tear Gas and Protestors Burn Vehicles Near Home of Senegal’s Main Opposition Leader

AP Photo/Leo Correa
A demonstrator walks past a barricade set on fire during a protest in support of main opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in Dakar, Senegal, Monday, May 29, 2023.

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Police fired tear gas and demonstrators burned cars Monday near the home of Senegal’s main opposition leader, as tensions rise in the capital days before a court verdict is expected on charges against the politician.

Ousmane Sonko is being tried for rape and death threats against a woman working at a massage parlor, and could face up to 10 years in prison. If convicted, he would would be barred from running in next year’s presidential elections. Sonko and his supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy.

The clashes came a day after police stopped Sonko’s “freedom caravan,” traveling from his hometown of Ziguinchor, in the south and where he is the mayor, to the capital, Dakar, where he was forced into a home he has in the city.

The interior minister, Antoine Felix Diome, said Sonko had not been arrested but was caught breaking the law — partaking in an unauthorized caravan — and taken home.

Sonko supporters were denied access to his house Monday and threw stones against police blockading the roads. At least eight vehicles were burned with pockets of clashes throughout the city.

Demonstrations have already turned violent in the lead-up to the trial. Last week one person was killed and others injured when clashes erupted between police and Sonko supporters in the city of Kolda in the south.

Senegal’s government says it will stand firm against any attempt to disrupt public order.