DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Authorities forcibly removed Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko from his vehicle Thursday and escorted him to a court appearance, blocking his supporters from following and sparking unrest in several parts of the capital.
Police fired tear gas in several parts of Dakar to disperse protesters on the third day of demonstrations in support of Sonko, who finished third in the last presidential election and is seen as a leading contender in next year’s vote.
On Thursday, a convoy of dozens of cars carrying his supporters spent more than a hour making its way between Sonko’s home and the courthouse where he was to appear in connection with a civil lawsuit against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for alleged defamation.
In a separate matter, Sonko is also facing rape charges after a female massage salon employee came forward and accused him of assault. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president. No date is set for the this trial.
Sonko maintains his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy in the 2024 election. The opposition figure has urged Sall to say publicly that he will not seek a third term in office.
Thursday marks the second time in a month that Senegalese authorities have forcibly removed Sonko from his vehicle, saying his movements caused disruption. In mid-February, police smashed the window of his car so they could open the door and force him out.
In 2021, days of deadly protests erupted after Sonko was arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to the courthouse for a scheduled appearance in the rape case. At least 13 people died during the worst violence to rock Senegal in years.