News24

Senegalese students clash with cops

2012-02-02 08:18

Dakar - College students set fire to a bus and threatened to march on Senegal's presidential palace, a day after one of their classmates was killed during a demonstration against the 85-year-old president.

Police Superintendent Harona Sy, who is the head of security for the capital, said on Wednesday that his officers had pushed the demonstrators back with tear gas, forcing them off of the main avenue outside the capital's largest university. Reached by telephone, he said he had asked his officers to show restraint because the students were mourning the death of one of their own.

"I understand them," Sy said.

Wednesday's clashes mark the third day of back-to-back protests stemming from the decision of the nation's highest court to allow President Abdoulaye Wade to run for a third term. The constitution was revised to impose a two-term maximum, and many Senegalese as well as international experts see the court's decision as politically motivated.

On Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered at a downtown square to call for Wade's departure. Sy said that his men stormed the square when the demonstrators attempted to set fire to a petrol station, which if lit could have caused a dangerous explosion. An AP reporter saw the police speed an anti-riot truck into the knot of people, and saw a young man fall.

It's unclear if the college student who was identified in local media as Mamadou Diop was run over, or if he fell and was killed by the stampede that followed. Sy said police had opened an investigation, but added that it was highly unlikely that he was run over by the truck.

Model of democracy

"The truck weighs more than 30 tons. If he was run over, his body would have been crushed," he said. "But there were no traces on his body. The doctor that treated him said that he died of internal hemorrhaging."

Senegal has long been a model of democracy and stability on a continent plagued by coups and civil war. Analysts say that Wade's decision to run for a third term after more than 11 years in office is threatening to drag the country into unrest.

Wade, who will turn 86 this spring, argues that the constitutional amendment which imposed a two-term maximum was passed after he took office. He claims the law is not retroactive, and since he was elected under the previous constitution which had no term limits, he should be allowed to run for another seven-year term.

Mounting corruption has soured Senegal on Wade, who was the country's opposition leader for 25 years and who ran and lost in four elections before finally winning the 2000 ballot.

In New York, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a warning to Senegal, saying in a statement on Wednesday that he was concerned about the uptick of violence. In addition to the college student, three others have been killed, including a woman in her 60s, a youth in his 20s and a police officer who was stoned to death by the mob.

Ban said that authorities "must act in a manner that preserves and consolidates Senegal's democratic traditions, which have laid the foundations for its long history of stability".