At least nine people were killed in clashes, and public and private properties were vandalized in Senegal following the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in prison for "corrupting the youth," the country's interior minister said on Friday.
Police used tear gas on Thursday evening to disperse violent protests that erupted in the capital Dakar and other towns after Ousmane Sonko, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, was sentenced to two years in prison for corrupting the youth.
The government was prompted to suspend social media networks in order to control and maintain law and order in the West African country.
Interior Minister Antoine Felix Diome said at a press conference in Dakar that the nine deaths occurred in Dakar and southern Ziguinchor city.
"We have noted with regret the violence that has resulted in the destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths," he said. He did not, however, name the victims or describe the circumstances of their deaths.
Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told local media that Sonko could be arrested at any time.
Sonko was charged with rape and making death threats against Adji Sarr, an employee of a beauty salon in Dakar in 2021.
The opposition leader denied the charges and boycotted the trial twice, on May 16 and May 23, however, Dakar High Court Judge Issa Ndiaye decided to proceed in absentia.
On Thursday, the court acquitted Sonko of rape charges but sentenced him to two years in prison for corrupting the youth, disqualifying him from running in next year's presidential elections.
Sonko finished third in the 2019 election against incumbent President Macky Sall, but during the trial, he stated that the case against him is politically motivated in order to prevent him from running for president in 2024.
During Friday’s press conference, Interior Minister Diome said the government has decided to "temporarily suspend access to certain digital applications and social networks used to incite violence and hatred, which could exacerbate the already tense situation."
He called for calm, assuring the nation that the government has taken all necessary measures to ensure the safety of people and property.
In March, Sonko was sentenced to six months in prison, which was suspended, for defamation and insults directed at Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang.
In 2021, Senegal witnessed violent protests after Sonko was arrested for alleged rape.