Senegalese police on Thursday thwarted another opposition protest against Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade’s third term bid, arresting eight members of a youth movement that sought to stage a permanent sit-in.
Police earlier fired tear gas to disperse youths attempting to converge on Obelisk Square and when they tried to return, arrested at least eight, including leaders of the “Fed Up” movement known as Simon and Kilifeu.
Water cannons extinguished burning tires that the youths set ablaze in small streets near the square where scores of riot police were deployed.
However, small groups of youths started setting tires on fire in several suburbs of the seaside capital, a journalist reported.
The permanent sit-in was supposed to start on Tuesday, but riot police prevented youths from accessing the square, which has been the scene of protests in recent weeks against 85-year-old Wade’s plans to run in the Feb. 26 poll.
Senegalese Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom earlier branded the planned sit-in “criminal vagrancy” and said it was “clearly seditious.”
Later, he showed journalists in Dakar photos of explosives and weapons he said were found at the protest site.
“When someone comes to demonstrations with explosives and arms, or with other instruments to create panic and violence, it is someone who does not have the best intentions,” Ngom said, adding that an inquiry was under way to determine where the arms came from.
The youths also form part of the June 23 Movement (M23) of opposition and civil society opposed to Wade’s candidacy, which again called on its supporters to protest yesterday and today at Independence Square in the heart of the city.
The government fiercely opposes any gathering at the square, which is just a few hundred meters from the presidential palace and where police on Wednesday dispersed hundreds of people with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons.
“We have decided to return tomorrow to Independence Square at 3pm after [Friday] prayers,” M23 coordinator Alioune Tine told journalists.
“On Saturday, we will return to the same Independence Square from 11am. It will be a day of action across the whole country,” Tine said.
Tine denounced the response by riot police to the protests as “completely irrational and dictated by fear.”
The opposition movement, which includes several presidential candidates, has vowed a united front as it pressures Wade to step aside.
On Jan. 27, when the country’s highest court approved Wade’s candidacy for a third term, which the opposition says is unconstitutional, violent protests erupted in Dakar and spread throughout the country, leaving four people dead.
As individual vote lobbying got underway, the campaign appears to have run out of steam and turnout has waned at opposition demonstrations that the government has thwarted at every turn.
Wade, Africa’s second-oldest leader after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, says that changes to the constitution in 2008 mean he can serve two more mandates.
Despite national anger and criticism from abroad, Wade has remained defiant, campaigning energetically throughout the country and promising development and ambitious programs.
With just eight days to go until the election, no clear opposition frontrunner has emerged out of 13 candidates taking on Wade, and the opposition vote is likely to be split.