Senegal arrests hundreds amid tense political situation

Hundreds of people have been arrested across Senegal since deadly protests broke out against the sentencing of an opposition leader, an official said Sunday.

Violence erupted in Senegal’s capital Dakar and some towns on Thursday after Ousmane Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, was sentenced to two years in prison for “corrupting youth.”

Fresh protests broke out on Friday, bringing the death toll to 15.

“About 500 arrests have been made since the beginning of the protests. Some of those arrested belong to political parties, but the majority are without party affiliation,” Interior Minister Antoine Diome told reporters in Dakar.

He said there was relative calm on Saturday and Sunday with a “decrease in intensity” of the demonstrations.

Diome said there is foreign influence fueling the protests “and it is the country that is under attack.”

Citing a water production plant, the minister noted that vital infrastructure facilities were vandalized by the protesters.

The government was prompted to suspend social media networks in order to maintain law and order in the West African country.

On Sunday, the Communication Ministry said the government has suspended mobile phone data as part of measures to prevent the “dissemination of hateful and subversive messages.”

Amnesty International has condemned Senegalese authorities for restricting social media networks.

Heavy deployments of security forces around the capital remained visible, with army personnel patrolling largely empty streets, local media reported.

Sonko was charged with rape and making death threats against Adji Sarr, an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar, in 2021.

On Thursday, the court acquitted Sonko of the rape charges but sentenced him to two years for corrupting young people, disqualifying him from running in presidential elections.

He is yet to be arrested and is reported to be at his home in Dakar.

Sonko finished third in the 2019 election against President Macky Sall, but during the trial, he said the case against him was politically motivated to prevent him from running in 2024.

On Friday, the African Union and regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the violence.

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