Senegal braces for protest
Dakar - Senegal's opposition plans to hold an illegal protest on Friday, stoking fears of violence as the nation braces for a ruling on whether leader Abdoulaye Wade, 85, can seek a disputed third term in office.
Members of the international community have called for calm and respect of human rights, with some observers warning the nation is ripe for violence amid discontent over Wade's insistence on seeking a fresh term.
Main opposition parties and civil society groups under the umbrella June 23 Movement (M23) have called the protest despite a government ban issued to prevent violence as tensions rise over the pending decision.
The Constitutional Council - a five-judge body which has the final say on constitutional matters - has until midnight to announce its list of contenders for February 26 elections.
Some 20 presidential candidates, including Grammy-award winning singer Youssou Ndour have submitted their candidacy to the council.
The constitutional row over Wade's candidacy has set the nation on edge, raising fears for one of Africa's stable democracies.
Wade was first elected in 2000 for a seven-year mandate, and re-elected in 2007 under a new constitution for a five-year mandate. In 2008 the constitution was changed again to allow for two seven-year terms from 2012.
"Everybody knows the law is not retroactive," he said in an interview published on Thursday on news website Dakaractu.
"I wrote the constitution. Alone. Nobody knows it better than me," he said, adding, "I can even legally stand again in 2019."
Violation of civil rights
On criticism that he should not be seeking a third term, especially at his age, he said: "I still feel physically and intellectually able to serve my people.
"I cannot stop in midstream ... I need three years to complete some major projects that will turn Senegal into an emerging country."
Observers and rights groups have warned against a repetition of the violent riots in June last year and clashes between rival parties in December which left one person dead.
Government banned protests until Monday to "preserve peace and serenity" but this has been slammed by M23 as a violation of civil rights.
Former colonial power France on Thursday urged Senegal to ensure the right to free speech and assembly, calling for elections to take place in "a calm atmosphere and in a transparent manner".
"It is up to everyone to prove their responsibility. The future of Senegal is at stake in these elections," foreign ministry deputy spokesperson Romain Nadal said in Paris.
Amnesty International's west Africa researcher Salvatore Sagues said: "Senegal is at a crossroads and the potential for destabilisation is huge." Senegal has long been seen as a good example of democracy in Africa, with previous leaders Leopold Sedar Senghor and Abdou Diouf peacefully handing over power, although both served several terms under a previous constitution.