Senegal opposition leader charged with rape and released on bail | Politics News

March 8, 2021 8:21 pm by Web Desk


Court releases Ousmane Sonko under judicial supervision pending his rape trial which has sparked deadly protests.

Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko has been charged with rape and released on bail under judicial supervision, his lawyer has said, after his arrest last week led to violent protests.

Sonko calls the rape allegation politically motivated, and his release on Monday could help ease mounting tensions in one of West Africa’s most stable democracies. At least eight people died in clashes between security forces and protesters in the past week, according to rights group Amnesty International.

“He’s going home. He’s free,” said Etienne Ndione, one of Sonko’s lawyers.

Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar, said the opposition leader’s release was met with jubilation by his supporters, hundreds of whom gathered outside Sonko’s house in the capital city.

“The atmosphere is electric, protests have turned to celebration,” said Haque. “There is a sense among these protesters that they were able to release Sonko themselves; that they challenged the power of the presidency and they see his release as their personal victory.”

Earlier, hundreds of people had gathered outside the court in Dakar, waving flags and chanting “Free Sonko” before beginning to march. His supporters have called for three days of nationwide protests this week.

Sonko, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election, was arrested after an employee of a beauty salon accused him of raping her. He denies the allegation and says it is an attempt by President Macky Sall to kneecap a political rival. The government denies this.

After Sonko’s arrest last week, protesters torched cars, looted shops and threw stones at police, highlighting longstanding grievances over living standards, unemployment, corruption and inequality.

The clashes had abated by Saturday but the calls for fresh demonstrations led to concerns the violence could escalate.

Much of Dakar on Monday was at a standstill in anticipation of further unrest, with army tanks patrolling central streets.

Military vehicles topped with machineguns were stationed in areas in Dakar where recent clashes took place, and a dozen others were seen passing Independence Square in the heart of the city’s government quarter where the presidential palace is located.

Schools in the capital have been ordered closed for a week.

Kindled by Sonko’s arrest, the protests have grown into the worst political unrest the country has seen in years, prompting Senegal’s neighbours and the United Nations to express concerns about the rising tensions.

Political pressure has risen on Sall, whose tenure has been plagued by accusations that he unjustly torpedoes political rivals and worries that he may seek to extend his rule beyond his allotted two-term limit.

“This is not only about Sonko. We want Macky to resign,” yelled one man marching in a crowd of people on Monday.

Many are suspicious of the accusations against Sonko because two other prominent rivals of Sall were previously targeted by criminal charges that prevented them from running for president in 2019.

“The feeling among a lot of these protesters is what they’re doing is not defending Sonko, but they’re defending the democracy and the history of stability that this country has,” Haque said.

“They see in this court case against Ousmane Sonko an attempt to eliminate a rival of President Macky Sall,” he added.

The president is due to address the nation later on Monday.





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