Senegalese take to streets after president cleared for third election run

Protesters in Dakar and other cities overturned cars and killed one policeman after a high court cleared Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third term in office. 

Irada Humbatova/REUTERS/File
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade arrives at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa in this 2010 file photo. Senegal's Constitutional Council decided that Wade, a veteran campaigner known as "The Hare" for his political cunning, could seek re-election for a third term.

The Senegalese capital of Dakar is bracing for protests this week, after the top court cleared Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third presidential term and disqualified several opposition candidates, including world-famous singer Youssou N’Dour.

Protests rocked the capital on Friday, after the court decision’s decisions were announced, and pro-opposition protests overturned cars and buses and stoned one policeman to death. Senegalese police have beefed up their security around the presidential palace, but one opposition leader said protesters would make the country “ungovernable.”

"Abdoulaye Wade has declared war on the people," Amath Dansakho, the head of the PIT party and member of a broader opposition group called the June 23 Movement (M23), told reporters at a press conference. "The decision that we have just made will prove to Wade that this is a country of free people. We will render the country ungovernable," he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Critics of Wade say that the Senegalese Constitution does not allow presidents to serve more than two terms in office, but the 85-year-old Wade says he took office before the 2001 term-limit law had taken effect.  The five members of the Constitutional Court, all chosen personally by Wade, agreed with the president. No legal channels are now left for opposition members to contest Wade’s right to run or the disqualification of his rivals.

In explaining its decision, the court ruled that Wade – who was first elected president in 2000 – had actually served only one term since the 2001 Constitution was enacted.

“Wade’s first term under the 2001 constitution took place between 2007 and 2012,” the court is quoted by the Washington Post as saying in its final decision overnight on Monday. “Therefore, Wade can run for a second term under the 2001 constitution.”

After a fiery set of demonstrations on Friday after the court’s preliminary decisions were announced, President Wade took to the television airwaves to appeal for calm. On Saturday, police in riot gear took to the streets. On Sunday, a local group of online news websites complained that 80 percent of online news providers had been shut down in what appeared to be orchestrated denial-of-service attacks.

Such unrest is unusual for Senegal, which is the only West African country to have not had a coup d’état since liberation in 1959.

On Sunday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon evoked the memory of last year’s uprisings in North Africa while speaking at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was quoted by Agence France-Presse news agency as saying  the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were “a reminder that leaders must listen to their people." He did not mention Wade or any other African leader by name.  

"Events proved that repression is a dead end. Police power is no match to people power seeking dignity and justice," he said.

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