DAKAR — Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade accused the opposition Friday of fanning deadly unrest as his opponents vowed to pursue their campaign to block him from standing for a third term in office.
Under the watchful eye of riot police, opposition leaders gathered to pray for those killed in violence triggered by a top court ruling last Friday allowing the 85-year-old to run in the February 26 presidential election.
Groups of police armed with riot gear stood on corners near the Blanchot Mosque in Dakar as the streets overflowed with hundreds of men in colourful boubous (robes), clutching prayer mats and prayer beads, kneeling to pray.
Several leaders of the opposition June 23 Movement (M23) attended the prayers before dispersing peacefully as they vowed to continue pressuring Wade not to contest the vote.
"We are not just praying, the protests will continue, the mobilisation will continue," said Fadel Barro, one of the founders of the youth movement known as "Fed Up".
But ahead of Sunday's launch of a three-week election campaign in what has long been one of Africa's most stable nations, Wade warned "troublemakers" he would not tolerate the disruption of public order.
"Those who are chiefly responsible are the opposition who use protests which could have been completely peaceful, to sow disorder," he said at a ceremony in Senegal's seaside capital Dakar.
"These protesters represent nothing compared to the millions who are with (me)," said Wade, who has been in office in the west African state since 2000.
"We will not accept that individuals who think because they cannot win elections, can disrupt public order," he warned. "All resources will be used to assure the security of the population."
M23 had called Friday's prayer meeting in memory of those killed -- a policeman, a teenager, a 60-year-old woman and a student -- in protests sparked by Friday's constitutional council decision allowing Wade to stand.
Senegal has a two-term limit enshrined in its constitution but Wade argues that he should be able to run for a third stint as the limits were only introduced during his time in office.
Wade said he would "respect the results" of the election, where he is being challenged by 13 rivals.
Internationally-acclaimed singer Senegalese Youssou Ndour, who said last month he was giving up music for politics, saw his candidacy rejected by the five-member council, which is Senegal's top court.
A team of European Union election observers met with the five judges who cleared Wade's bid but blocked Ndour's on the grounds that some 4,000 of the 12,000 signatures handed in to support his candidacy were invalid.
"We asked a lot of questions... we will continue studying questions related to these candidacies," said deputy mission chief Tommaso Caprioglio.
Britain's ambassador to Dakar John Marshall said he hoped the election campaign would be "peaceful, without violence or intimidation from any quarter".
Mbaye Tall, leader of a movement called "Wade Must Leave" which is affiliated to M23, warned that if the president does not withdraw his candidacy the opposition would disrupt his campaign with protests.
"Every time Wade arrives in a town there will be protests. Until he leaves," he told AFP.
With no legal recourse left, the opposition has vowed to force Wade to withdraw his candidacy using pressure from the street.
The government has however brushed off opposition threats of mass resistance, saying turnout at their protests this week suffered a lack of support. Witnesses have put the numbers attending the rallies at about 10,000.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe has said that Paris "wished a generational change could be organised," in the first sign that Senegal's former colonial master would prefer Wade step down.
Washington has also urged Wade to allow power to pass "to the next generation".
UN rights chief Navi Pillay said she was disturbed by reports that police had used "excessive force" against anti-government protesters.
"The country's strong tradition of peaceful, democratic elections could be jeopardised if the authorities mishandle the on-going protests," she warned in a statement Thursday.
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