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Senegal death toll hits 15 as riots continue

Violence follows conviction of opposition leader accused of corrupting youth by BABACAR DIONE and SAM MEDNICK The Associated Press | June 4, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
People stand at the entrance of a destroyed supermarket in Dakar, Senegal, Saturday, June 3, 2023. Senegal's government says at least nine people have been killed in violent clashes between police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, with authorities issuing a blanket ban on the use of several social media platforms in the aftermath of the violence. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

DAKAR, Senegal -- The number of people killed in days of clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has now risen to 15, including two security officers, the government said Saturday.

Clashes continued in pockets of the city Friday evening, with demonstrators throwing rocks, burning cars and damaging supermarkets as police fired tear gas and the government deployed the military in tanks.

Sonko was convicted Thursday of corrupting young people but acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlor and making death threats against her. Sonko, who didn't attend his trial in Dakar, was sentenced to two years in prison. His lawyer said a warrant hadn't been issued yet for his arrest.

Corrupting young people, which includes using one's position of power to have sex with people under 21, is a criminal offense in Senegal, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $6,000.

Under Senegalese law, Sonko's conviction would bar him from running in next year's election, said Bamba Cisse, another defense lawyer. However, the government said Sonko could ask for a retrial once he was imprisoned. It was unclear when he would be taken into custody.

Sonko came in third in Senegal's 2019 presidential election. His supporters maintain that his legal troubles are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy in the 2024 election.

The international community has called on Senegal's government to resolve the tensions. France's ministry for Europe and foreign affairs said it was "extremely concerned by the violence" and called for a resolution to this crisis, in keeping with Senegal's long democratic tradition.

Rights groups have condemned the government crackdown, which has included arbitrary arrests and restrictions on social media. Some sites used by demonstrators to incite violence have been suspended for nearly two days.

Senegalese are blaming the government for the violence and the loss of lives.

If violence continues, it could threaten the country's institutions, analysts say.

"The most shared feeling about the current situation is fear, stress, exhaustion and helplessness. Thus what the people are now seeking for is peace," said Alioune Tine, founder of Afrikajom Center, a West African think tank.

Sonko hasn't been heard from or seen since the verdict.

Government spokesman Abdou Karim Fofana said the damage caused by months of demonstrations had cost the country millions of dollars.

"These calls [to protest], it's a bit like the anti-republican nature of all these movements ... don't believe in the foundations of democracy, which are elections, freedom of expression, but also the resources that our [legal] system offers," Fofana said.

Print Headline: Senegal death toll hits 15 as riots continue


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