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Police in Senegal used tear gas on Thursday to disperse violent protests that erupted in the capital Dakar and other towns after opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was sentenced to two years in prison for “corrupting youth.”
The University of Dakar turned into a battlefield, where groups of youths pelted the police with stones, who responded with tear gas, according to video footage.
Several vehicles from the university were torched.
In several parts of the capital, groups of young people attacked public property, burnt tires and set up barricades in the streets.
Local news portal Seneweb.com, citing anonymous police sources, said three people were killed in protests in southern Ziguinchor city and a police officer was lynched by angry youths on the outskirts of Dakar.
Protests were also reported elsewhere in the country, in Casamance, Mbour and Kaolack.
A court in Dakar sentenced Sonko to two years in prison Thursday for “corrupting youth.”
Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, was accused of rape and making death threats against Adji Sarr, an employee of a beauty salon in the capital, in 2021.
But judges at the High Court in Dakar acquitted Sonko of the two charges.
The prosecution had asked the court to hand Sonko a 10-year jail term for rape or five years for moral corruption and a fine of over $3,300.
Sonko, who denied the charges, boycotted the trial twice, on May 16 and May 23, when presiding Judge Issa Ndiaye decided to go ahead with the proceedings in his absentia.
Sonko, 48, has admitted to having gone for a massage in the salon to relieve chronic back pain but claims the trial is politically motivated to foil his presidential bid in the 2024 elections.
He emerged third in the 2019 election against incumbent President Macky Sall.
The court also sentenced the salon owner and co-defendant in the case, Ndeye Khady Ndiaye, to two years in jail for complicity. The two defendants were also ordered to pay a court fine of 600,000 CFA francs (about $979).
Sonko’s PASTEF-Patriots party denounced the verdict, saying “never have the Republic of Senegal and the institutions of this country been so flouted, defiled.”
But last month, Senegal’s Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall claimed that “despite insults, threats and attempts to discredit the judiciary, the trial was held in accordance with the principles governing fair trial.”
During the trial, salon owner Ndiaye said Sarr had never told her that she had been raped.
But Sarr told the court she had been issued death threats by Sonko if she reported the case.
Sonko, who was in March sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence for defamation and insults against the country's tourism minister, is the mayor of Ziguinchor city, several hundred miles from Dakar.
The court did not rule on his possible arrest.
One of Sonko's lawyers, Djiby Diagne, said the decision to arrest him or not depends on the public prosecutor, but the ruling “jeopardizes” his candidacy in presidential elections.
The justice minister warned that Sonko could be arrested any time.
Senegal has witnessed violent protests since Sonko was first detained for alleged rape in 2021.
The Ziguinchor area was the scene of clashes between police and the opposition leader’s supporters in May, which led to the death of three people ahead of the May 16 proceedings.
Since last Sunday, local media reports said the streets leading to the home of Sonko in Dakar have been barricaded by the police. Sonko’s supporters reportedly kept a vigil on Wednesday, organizing a procession in his support.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.