Tue | Sep 26, 2023

Clashes in Senegal kill at least 9; government bans social media platforms and closes university

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 12:36 PM
Carrying his belongings a student walks past burned cars as he leaves the Cheikh Anta Diop University after authorities ordered the institution to be closed until further notice in Dakar, Senegal, Friday, June 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Clashes between police and supporters of Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko left nine people dead, the government said Friday, with authorities issuing a blanket ban on the use of several social media platforms in the aftermath of the violence.

The deaths occurred mainly in the capital, Dakar, and the city of Ziguinchor in the south, where Sonko is mayor, Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said in a statement.

Some social media sites used by demonstrators to incite violence, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been suspended, he said.

“The state of Senegal has taken every measure to guarantee the safety of people and property. We are going to reinforce security everywhere in the country,” Diome said. On Friday, the government deployed the military to parts of the city as clashes continued between police and Sonko supporters.

Sonko was convicted Thursday of corrupting youth but acquitted on charges of raping a woman who worked at a massage parlour 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.

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

Sonko is considered President Macky Sall's main competition and has urged Sall to state publicly that he won't seek a third term in office.

Since the verdict was announced, clashes have erupted throughout the country, with protesters throwing rocks, burning vehicles and in some places erecting barricades while police fired tear gas. Associated Press reporters saw plumes of black smoke and tear gas being fired throughout the city.

The clashes forced the closure of the main university in Dakar. On Friday, AP reporters watched students streaming out carrying luggage on their heads, walking past the shells of burnt-out cars in the university compound.

Corrupting young people, which includes using one's position of power to have sex with people under the age of 21, is a criminal offence 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 defence lawyer.

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