Violent protests spread in Senegalreached a devastating climax as the interior ministry confirmed the death of a student in the city of Saint-Louis during Friday's protests against the postponed presidential election. The clashes between security forces and protesters not only gripped the capital but also spread to other cities, marking the first significant outbreak of unrest following the election delay.
The interior ministry, in a statement issued on Saturday, acknowledged the death of the student, identified as Alpha Yero Tounkara. However, the ministry vehemently denied any responsibility on the part of its forces, asserting that the incident would be thoroughly investigated.
A protester runs away from tear gas smoke past a fire during clashes with police on the sidelines of a protest against a last-minute delay of presidential elections in Dakar on February 9, 2024. On February 8, 2024, the parliament backed the president's sudden decision to postpone the February 25 election by 10 months, sparking a fierce opposition backlash and international concern.
In a shocking turn of events, violent protests have erupted across Senegal following the controversial postponement of the presidential elections, resulting in the first reported fatality. The unrest unfolded in various parts of the country, with clashes between protesters and police escalating to a tragic incident in the northern city of Saint-Louis.
A student lost their life on Friday during the clashes, as confirmed by opposition leader Khalifa Sall and a local hospital source. The capital city, Dakar, witnessed security forces employing tear gas to disperse the crowds, adding to the chaotic scenes unfolding across the nation.
Originally scheduled for February 25, the presidential elections were delayed until December 15, a decision vehemently contested by the opposition. President Macky Sall, who denied accusations of clinging to power, initially called off the polls indefinitely, citing the need to resolve a dispute over the eligibility of presidential candidates. In a controversial move, lawmakers subsequently extended Sall's mandate by 10 months.
Opponents of the decision argue that Senegal's longstanding reputation as a democratic stronghold in an otherwise unstable West African region is at stake. Opposition leader Khalifa Sall, unrelated to the president, labeled the election delay a "constitutional coup" and expressed concerns about the country's democratic standing.
President Macky Sall, asserting his willingness to step down, defended the delay as a measure to ensure a stable and peaceful transition. However, the death of the student in Saint-Louis, reported by Khalifa Sall on social media, has further fueled the outcry against the government's actions.
Senegal, known for its stable democracy and absence of military coups, has been plunged into mass protests since last weekend. In Dakar, demonstrators engaged in running battles with security forces, hurling stones and setting tires ablaze.
While President Sall insists he does not plan to seek re-election, critics accuse him of attempting to retain influence over his successor. The final list of candidates for the elections, determined by the Constitutional Council, saw the exclusion of several contenders, intensifying concerns over the electoral process.
The international community has also weighed in on the crisis, with West Africa's regional bloc Ecowas urging Senegal's political leaders to "take steps urgently to restore the electoral calendar" in adherence to the constitution.
Riot police deployed tear gas on Monday to disperse crowds attempting to assemble outside Senegal's national assembly in protest of the president's sudden decision to postpone elections. As slogans echoed through the air, parliamentary discussions unfolded on a bill aiming to reschedule the originally slated 25 February vote to 25 August.
The proposed legislation also seeks to extend President Macky Sall's mandate until his successor takes office. This unprecedented move by Sall has thrust Senegal into uncharted constitutional territory, raising concerns about the nation's esteemed reputation as a democratic stronghold in a region marked by political upheaval and coups.