Deaths as Senegal protests turn violent

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At least three people died in Senegal during protests supporting opposition leader Ousmane Sonko before he was supposed to attend a since postponed rape trial in a court in Dakar on Tuesday.

The judge of the criminal chamber of the Dakar high court postponed Sonko’s trial to give lawyers for key witnesses time to go over the court files.

The delay came after 24 hours of unrest linked to the case against the prominent politician in the West African nation.

Two people were found dead in Dakar and Ziguinchor after the protests, and one police officer died when an armoured police car accidentally hit him, the interior ministry said.

Buses were burned, some shops were attacked and people clashed with police in the capital Dakar and in Sonko’s hometown, Ziguinchor, during violent demonstrations on Monday night.

“It’s politics what’s going on,” said Abdoulay Sy, a Senegalese IT engineer and U.S. resident, who was caught by surprise by the protests while visiting his family in Keur Massar at the outskirts of Dakar.

“This is our stuff, we pay taxes, this is our staff if they burn it, they are destroying our things” the 35-year-old engineer said, adding that every time there were elections, unrest and “bad things” happen.

He said a lack of opportunities for young people further fuelled the demonstrations, and called on all sides to restore peace.

Meanwhile Sonko remained in Ziguinchor, where he is the mayor, and where the unrest started on Monday when his supporters tried to protect him from a possible arrest to force him to be present in court.

Sonko was charged based on a woman's accusations that he assaulted her when she worked at a massage salon.

He denies the charges and said there was a plot to remove him from the presidential race.

If convicted, Sonko faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president in 2024.

He recently received a 6-month suspended prison sentence in a defamation case against the Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang, who he should pay about $330,000.

The opposition leader declared he would no longer respond to court summonses.

Sonko challenged President Macky Sall in Senegal's 2019 presidential election and was elected mayor of Ziguinchor last year.

Heavy police presence was seen in Dakar, Ziguinchor and elsewhere in Senegal.

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