Wade dismisses protests as 'light breeze'
Dakar - Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade mocked protests against his bid for a third term as a "light breeze" as the opposition mulled its next move Thursday and the West distanced itself from its erstwhile ally.
The UN rights chief Navi Pillay said she was disturbed by reports that police in Senegal used "excessive force" against anti-government protestors ahead of a February 26 election.
The anti-Wade June 23 Movement has called rallies in recent days where thousands have turned out to demand the 85-year-old resign. The gatherings have erupted into riots in Dakar and elsewhere, leaving four people dead.
However government has brushed off opposition threats of mass resistance, saying the turnout, about 10 000 witnesses say, showed a lack of support.
"A breeze is a light wind which rustles the leaves of a tree, but never becomes a hurricane," Wade said on Wednesday during a ceremony in Dakar.
The comments headlined in several daily newspapers and were confirmed by Wade's spokesperson for the electoral campaign El Hadj Amadou Sall.
"The president was commenting on threats by the opposition who said their march would be the final assault on the presidential palace," Sall told AFP.
Wade has previously dismissed the opposition's campaign of mass resistance as "temper tantrums".
The protests began on Friday when the constitutional council gave Wade the green light to run in elections despite already having served two terms.
Wade argues he can serve another two seven-year terms from 2012 because a constitutional cap was only introduced in 2008, after his latest re-election.
On Thursday private newspapers headlined with the "desertion" of Wade by western nations after France and the United States spoke out against his candidacy.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe on Wednesday said the country "wished a generational change could be organised", in the first sign the former colonial master would prefer Wade step down.
Following riots in June last year, Juppe warned that Wade's insistence on seeking a third term could "produce the same effects" as seen in Libya, where leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in a popular uprising.
Paris echoed earlier calls from Washington which urged Wade, in office since 2000, to allow power to pass "to the next generation".
The UN rights chief Navi Pillay on Thursday joined the chorus of international criticism.
"The country's strong tradition of peaceful, democratic elections could be jeopardised if the authorities mishandle the on-going protests," she warned in a statement.
Senegal's Foreign Minister Madicke Niang told journalists that while Senegal was open to advice, it would not "take lessons in democracy from anyone".
"The election will not take place neither in the United States, nor France, nor anywhere else," he said.
Plan of action
The June 23 movement was expected on Thursday to unveil a "plan of action" to force the veteran leader to step aside.
Wade said his supporters "know very well these current agitations don't seem to be affecting the Senegalese".
"I hope I will still be here next year to further prove my ambitions for you," Wade said.
His comments came as analysts warned Senegal was ripe for an "African Spring" in the style of uprisings which have spread through the Arab world, if the opposition managed to mobilise.
"The entire world and indeed former leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya grossly under-estimated the power of citizen action ... The same attitude from President Wade may just turn out to be his greatest undoing," said David Kode, a Johannesburg-based analyst and West Africa expert.
In bustling Dakar it was business as usual after student clashes with police on Wednesday which followed the death of a fellow student during a rally on Tuesday night. The 32-year-old was run over by a vehicle.
Government appealed in a statement on Thursday for "restraint", condemning violence which broke out during the protest.