Riots erupted in Dakar on Friday night, leaving a policeman dead, as angry protesters took to the streets after a court cleared Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a highly disputed third term in office. The west African nation’s Constitutional Council gave the 85-year-old the green light to run in Feb. 26 polls, sparking anger among opponents who accuse him of fiddling with the constitution to serve his own interests.
Amid the resulting unrest, Wade in turn told his opponents to stop throwing “temper tantrums.”
The five-judge council rejected the candidacy of music icon Youssou Ndour who vowed to challenge his disqualification. While the international community appealed for calm in one of Africa’s most stable democracies, violence spread through the capital on Friday night as rioters engaged in running battles with police, setting alight tires and shops.
Thousands gathered peacefully at the Place de l’Obelisque in the working class suburb of Colobane all day ahead of the highly -anticipated ruling on Friday.
However, shortly after the announcement, tensions rose and police lobbed teargas at stone-throwing protesters who dispersed to set up barricades and burn tires along the city’s main arteries.
The June 23 Movement which opposes Wade’s candidacy and called the rally on Friday, appealed to Senegalese to march on the presidential palace in downtown Dakar to “remove Wade, who is squatting there.”
The Constitutional Council approved 13 other candidates including former Senegalese prime ministers Idrissa Seck, Macky Sall and Moustapha Niasse, and main opposition leader Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
Ndour, who shocked the music world when he announced this month he was quitting singing for politics, was left off the list, with the council saying thousands of signatures he provided could not be verified. A minimum of 10,000 were needed.
The singer warned in an interview with France 3 television that the approval of Wade’s bid “is going to create tension.”
“The opposition in its great -majority does not support any fiddling with the constitution,” the singer said, adding that the Senegalese people were “tired” of politicians flouting the law.
The ruling seals months of speculation over the interpretation of the constitution on presidential mandates.
Wade was first elected in 2000 for a seven-year mandate, and re-elected in 2007 under a new constitution for a five-year mandate.
He again revised the text in 2008, reverting to a seven-year mandate, renewable once.
Wade argues that the law does not apply retroactively and that he is allowed to run again.
Rights activists have warned against a repetition of violent riots in June last year, and clashes between rival parties last month that left one person dead.
Amnesty International has warned the “potential for destabilization is huge” and urged political leaders to make sure their supporters did not resort to violence.
On Friday, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States appealed for calm and restraint in a statement expressing “serious concern for the rising tensions among political parties and citizens.”
Wade, a veteran opposition figure who dislodged the Socialist Party after 40 years of rule in 2000 elections, has grown increasingly unpopular as he attempts to cling to power.
He has faced criticism over corruption, financial scandals and nepotism, with many accusing him of trying to position his son Karim Wade, 44, as his successor.