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Protests Intensify as Senegal Vote Nears

February 20, 2012

Anne Look | Dakar

Senegal's opposition is calling for more protests in downtown Dakar, the capital Monday, less than a week before a contentious presidential poll.

The call follows five straight days of demonstrations ahead of Sunday's vote.

The opposition wants incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade to withdraw his bid for a third mandate, citing a constitutional reform in 2001 that limits presidents to two terms.

Senegal's highest court ruled last month that Wade's first mandate does not count against the two-term limit because the president, now 85, was already in power when the reform took effect.

The ruling sparked ongoing protests that intensified around the country this weekend, killing two.

In downtown Dakar Sunday, clusters of primarily young men lobbing bricks and rocks clashed with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

"Let them kill us," one protester said, "we believe in ourselves and we believe in God. All that matters is that Wade steps down."

Further rioting erupted around Dakar Sunday night with youth setting fires, placing barricades on main roads and throwing rocks at passing cars.

Police fired tear gas into a mosque during protests Friday. Senegal's interior minister quickly apologized for the incident. However the misstep heightened tensions and angered demonstrators and religious leaders.

With the election six days away, none of the 13 opposition candidates has emerged as a clear frontrunner. However, popular opposition to Wade's candidacy has been galvanized by a civil society coalition called the M23 movement.

The movement's coordinator, Alioune Tine, says tension is running high in the country and the death toll is increasing. He says we should not wait until there are dozens dying every day as a result of the protests. Tine says the international community should intervene to stop President Wade, or Senegal could go the way of Ivory Coast and Niger. Unrest in Senegal, he says, risks destabilizing the entire region.

The African Union and regional bloc, ECOWAS, are sending a joint mission to Senegal this week in an attempt to mediate the unrest and stop escalating violence.

Tine said the opposition meets Monday to discuss strategy for the days ahead.



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