Dakar, Senegal - Dozens of people in Senegal's capital of Dakar were arrested Thursday as protesters hurled rocks at police and blocked roads with burning tires, while police fired tear gas.
Tensions in the West African country have mounted as opposition supporters say their leader, Ousmane Sonko, is on trial over false accusations meant to keep him from running for president in next year's elections.
Sonko is facing libel charges for allegedly accusing the minister of tourism of embezzlement. He's also facing separate rape charges. His rape arrest ignited a violent string of protests in March 2021 that led to the deaths of 14 people.
His supporters say both allegations were fabricated to prevent his presidential bid.
Protesters run from tear gas fired from police on a highway in Dakar, March 30, 2023.
Protester Mafall Sall, 20, told VOA he was there to liberate democracy. People are fed up and are fighting back, he said, while flushing his eyes of tear gas. He added that Macky Sall does not negotiate or respect elections, and all he knows is power.
The latest round of protests began March 14 and have become increasingly riotous. More than 130 demonstrators were arrested between March 14 and 16, and three were killed, according to rights group Amnesty International.
FILE - Supporters of Senegal opposition leader Ousmane Sonko take to the streets of Dakar, March 14, 2023.
Hawa Ba, who heads the Senegal office at the Open Society Initiative for West Africa, a pro-democracy group, said, 'We are witnessing an unprecedented number of arrests of citizens because they have either participated in demonstrations or they have expressed views or criticism against President Macky Sall on social media. But also, because they have used their rights in terms of expression and in terms of demonstration. This is unprecedented.'
Macky Sall's refusal to state whether he'll run for a controversial third term in next year's elections has incensed many Senegalese. While in office, Sall altered constitutionally allowed term limits, which many fear will be used to justify a third run for the presidency.
Other leaders in the region have used similar tactics to cling to power.
Demonstrator Abdul Diop, 38, told VOA he is protesting to fight against the injustices reigning over Senegal and to fight against Sall's dictatorship. Diop said Senegal is being subjected to a dictatorial regime, and people are now ready to give our lives for change.
More protests are planned for next Monday.