At least 16 people have died and hundreds arrested since violent protests broke out in Senegal, following the sentencing of popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, according to the country’s public broadcaster RTS report on Saturday.
CNN reported that many protesters sustained injuries amid clashes for a third day with security forces, following Sonko’s sentencing.
His supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of a government effort to derail his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election. Under Senegalese law, Sonko’s conviction could bar him from running.
While Senegal, a country of around 17 million people, has experienced upheaval before, rights groups and analysts say the current clashes are the worst political crisis the nation has seen since 1988, when a general strike and electoral protest shook the power of the then president, Amnesty International researcher Ousmane Diallo said.
At the heart of the unrest are fears that President Macky Sall will run for a third term. The constitution limits presidents to two five-year terms. But Sall argues that a constitutional reform adopted in 2016 allows him to reset the clock and seek another term.
More than 500 people have been arrested, Senegalese Director of Public Security, Ibrahima Diop, in said a televised address late Sunday.
Some of them included minors and foreigners, he said.
“The people apprehended during these events are mainly armed and dangerous individuals,” Diop said, adding that some of those arrested had knives, firearms and Molotov cocktails in their possession.
Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said in a press conference on Thursday that social media and messaging apps had been restricted to “limit fake news.”