At least nine people were killed, according to Senegal’s interior ministry, after clashes between riot police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko after a court sentenced him to two years in prison.
Conflicts erupted following Thursday’s decision, which might bar Sonko, President Macky Sall’s most ardent rival, from running in the election. In the nation’s capital Dakar, vehicles and buses were set ablaze. Disturbances were also reported in Ziguinchor, where Sonko has served as mayor since 2022.
Interior Minister Antoine Diome said on national television on Friday, “We have noted, with regret, violence that has led to the destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and Ziguinchor.”
Sonko was accused of raping a lady who worked in a massage parlour in 2021 when she was 20 and threatening to kill her. He was not present at the court on the alleged sexual assault. He asserted that the accusations were politically driven and denied any misconduct. He was then convicted not guilty of rape, but was found guilty of a distinct offense that the penal code defines as immoral behaviour toward people under the age of 21.
The justice ministry said the opposition leader could now be taken to prison at any time.
As rioting erupted in the capital city of Dakar and elsewhere following the verdict, police remained posted near his Dakar house.
Sonko’s PASTEF party claimed the decision was a result of a political scheme and urged people to “stop all activity and take to the streets” in a statement.
Sonko, a former civil servant who gained notoriety during the 2019 presidential elections, finished third after running an anti-President Sall and anti-country’s governing elite campaign. Sonko paints Sall as corrupt and a potential dictator, while Sall’s followers denounce Sonko as a troublemaker who has sowed unrest. His initial rape arrest in 2021 caused days of fighting that claimed at least 12 lives.