Senegal’s Sall facing heavy pressure to end political crisis

Senegalese President Macky Sall held a cabinet meeting on Wednesday facing international and national calls to re-schedule a postponed presidential election and resolve the grave political crisis.

The United States, France and the United Nations have strongly supported domestic demands for the vote to go ahead as soon as possible, with fears that tensions could spill over into greater violence.

Three people have been killed in protests since Sall postponed the February 25 vote until December.

The weekly cabinet gathering had taken on shades of a landmark meeting with Senegal, reputed for stability in a region marred by military coups, at one of its most critical junctures for decades.

Dakar’s political circles had been buzzing with talk of an amnesty to wipe out offences committed during unrest since March 2021 that has left dozens dead and seen hundreds arrested.

But a statement issued following Wednesday’s meeting made no mention of the amnesty, and little of the ongoing political crisis.

Sall stressed “the imperative of promoting a serene school and university climate”, the statement said, at a time when both schools and the country’s eight public universities have been affected by teacher strikes in protest at the election postponement.

One of Sall’s leading political opponents is anti-establishment firebrand Ousmane Sonko, who fought the state for more than two years before being imprisoned last year.

His second-in-command Bassirou Diomaye Faye has also been detained.

Alioune Tine and Pierre Goudiaby Atepa, two civil society figures who have mediated between the presidency and Sonko’s side, have told local media that he would be released from jail in the coming days.

– ‘Open, national dialogue’ –

Despite Sall reportedly seeking a way out of the turmoil and speaking of “appeasement and reconciliation”, no government official has mentioned any mediation talks.

The presidency has, however, posted a video on social media urging “open, national dialogue” ahead of an election that would be “beyond dispute”.

The video shows Sall greeting several opposition figures, including Sonko.

The latter’s Pastef party has so far spurned calls for dialogue and insisted the election take place on February 25.

Sall, who has been in power since 2012, sparked uproar on February 3 when he called off the elections over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and concern about a return to unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.

Parliament backed Sall’s suspension of the election until December 15, but only after security forces stormed the building and removed some opposition lawmakers who opposed the bill.

The vote paved the way for Sall — whose second term was due to expire in April — to remain in office until a successor is installed, probably in 2025.

The opposition has decried Sall’s move as a “constitutional coup”, saying his party fears defeat at the ballot box for its candidate, Prime Minister Amadou Ba.

– Banned protest –

Security forces have crushed attempts to demonstrate.

According to the UN rights office, at least three young men have been killed and 266 people, including journalists, reportedly arrested across the country since the election was postponed.

Senegalese authorities banned a planned opposition march on Tuesday.

The Aar Sunu Election (Let’s protect our election) collective of some 40 civil, religious and professional groups had called for a peaceful rally in Dakar.

But it put off the protest until Saturday, saying that capital authorities banned the march as it could disrupt traffic.

Authorities also cut mobile internet access for the second time since the postponement of the election.

Families of those detained since the 2021 and 2023 unrest demanded their immediate and unconditional release on Wednesday and have also called for a demonstration in central Dakar on Saturday.

Souleymane Djim, from the families’ collective, said it had recorded 1,500 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Of those only 86 had been tried and released.

The government says there are no political prisoners in the country.

One of the mothers, Seyda N’Dieye Diop said there was a lot of distress among them.

“We are in a state of law, our children have not committed any crime. They just expressed their preference for a leader,” she said, referring to Sonko who is popular with young people.

AFP

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