By Coumba Sylla (AFP) – Feb 20, 2012
DAKAR — Senegal police turned away small groups of opposition protesters Monday after days of riots against President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term.
Riot police took up their stations in the downtown suburb of Plateau -- the theatre of street clashes for the past five days -- and blocked access to Independence Square.
Small groups of protesters arrived with presidential candidates by late afternoon, leaving grudgingly at the behest of police commissioner Arona Sy.
Shopowners had nervously closed early and the city emptied out with fears of fresh violence as tensions run high ahead of Sunday's election.
The president's spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye lamented recent violence in the west African nation, a former French colony known as one of the continent's pioneer democracies with no history of coups or conflicts.
"This electoral campaign has known difficulties, clashes, which we regret. These incidents have no place in an electoral campaign," Ndiaye told journalists.
French foreign ministry spokesman Vincent Floreani expressed the country's "deep concern over the rising tensions in Senegal in recent days."
Senegal has been put "to fire and sword," headlined the daily Le Pop after fresh riots erupted Sunday in which another person was killed, bringing the death toll to six since protests erupted in late January, according to an AFP tally.
Amnesty International Senegal said in a joint statement with another rights body that nine people had died in this period.
The opposition June 23 Movement planned to continue heaping pressure on Wade, 85, to step down ahead of February 26 polls and called a protest from 1500GMT at Independence Square.
Last week protesters clashed with security forces in side streets as they attempted to defy a ban to rally at the square.
Police on Friday fired tear gas into a mosque belonging to the country's biggest Islamic brotherhood, the Tidianes, sparking fury among the faithful and fresh clashes on Sunday.
A peaceful gathering degenerated into a tense hours-long stand-off with police as angry youths pelted riot police with rocks and set fires in main streets.
Security forces riposted with rubber bullets and volleys of potent invisible teargas.
The violence spread through suburbs of the seaside capital and other main cities and left one dead in the suburb of Rufisque, a religious leader was quoted Monday as saying by the state news agency APS.
Wade's spokesman again apologised for the mosque incident, which Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom described as a "police blunder," urging politicians to hold rallies away from mosques.
Senegal is 95 percent Muslim but secular and known for its religious tolerance. Citizens follow one of four very influential Sufi brotherhoods.
One of Africa's oldest democracies, it nevertheless has Africa's second oldest president after Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, who turns 88 on Tuesday.
Wade has faced growing discontent over rising food prices, crippling power cuts and his efforts to stay in power.
He is accused of seeking to line up his son Karim Wade to succeed him.
Despite having served two terms in office, a limit he himself introduced, Wade says later changes to the constitution allow him to serve two more mandates.
Wade has brushed off opposition concerns as "temper tantrums" and derided criticism from France and the United States, which have both urged him to retire.
In his campaign, Wade has swept across the country promising universities, roads, airports and massive agricultural projects to win over the country's five million registered voters.
He will face 13 opposition contenders, including three former prime ministers, in Sunday's election.
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