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Senegal: Police crack down on protests over election delay

February 4, 2024

Several candidates in Senegal's postponed presidential election were arrested during a demonstration in Dakar. President Macky Sall delayed the vote on Saturday in a row over the list of those running.

Ddemonstrators run away during clashes with riot police as they protest against the postponement of the February 25 presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal on February 4, 2024
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital, DakarImage: Zohra Bensemra/REUTERS

Security forces in Senegal on Sunday used tear gas and made high-profile arrests as pockets of protests broke out in the capital, Dakar, against the delayed February 25 presidential election.

President Macky Sall announced on Saturday the vote would be postponed to an unspecified date due to a row over the candidate list.

Sall said he made the call after the Constitutional Court ruled that several candidates could not take part.

Lawmakers are investigating two of the court's judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.

Some opposition and civil society groups have criticized the delay, which came a day before campaigning was due to begin, as an "institutional coup."

Under the country's election code, the earliest a vote could now be held is late April.

What happened at the protests?

Responding to calls by some opposition candidates, hundreds of men and women converged in the early afternoon at a roundabout on one of Dakar's main roads.

Groups of protesters blocked traffic at various points with makeshift barricades of burning tires.

Many of the protesters waved Senegalese flags or wore the jersey of the national football team.

In one area, around 200 people retreated into side streets after police in riot gear fired tear gas and started detaining protesters when some threw rocks at officers. 

Several presidential candidates were detained in the melee, including former Prime Minister Aminata Toure.

Toure wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she was detained and taken to a police station in Dakar as soon as she got out of her vehicle.

Other candidates arrested were Daouda Ndiaye and Anta Babacar Ngom.

Further protests are planned outside parliament on Monday.

Senegal's president Macky Sall announces the delay to the presidential election live on TV, on February 3, 2023
Senegal's president, Macky Sall, who is not running in the election, announced the delay on SaturdayImage: RTS/Reuters

Local, international reaction to election delay

The United States, the European Union and former colonial ruler France led appeals for the vote to be rescheduled at the earliest date.

The EU called for a prompt, transparent, inclusive and credible election, with spokesperson Nabila Massrali noting the delay "opens a period of uncertainty."

The French Foreign Ministry also urged the authorities "to remove the uncertainty surrounding the electoral timetable, so that the elections can be held as soon as possible and in compliance with the rules of Senegalese democracy."

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expressed concern about the circumstances that led to the postponement and called for a new election date to be set quickly.

Senegalese politicians must "prioritize dialogue and collaboration for transparent, inclusive and credible elections," the regional bloc said in a statement.

At least two of the 20 presidential candidates planned to launch their campaigns on Sunday in defiance of the official postponement.

Senegal has traditionally been seen as a rare example of democratic stability in West Africa, which has been hit by a series of coups in recent years, including in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

But deadly clashes involving opposition supporters and the disqualification of opposition leaders have hurt that reputation.

mm/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)