More than 100 hurt in Senegal clashes

2011-06-24 20:40

Dakar - Clashes that prompted President Abdoulaye Wade to back down on electoral law changes left more than 100 people wounded, police said on Friday, after Senegal's biggest protests in more than 10 years.

The violence erupted on Thursday as parliament examined the proposed revisions, with two people shot and a key rights activist pelted with stones, leading Human Rights Watch to warn of signs of "increasing repression".

"We have registered 102 wounded including 13 policemen over the day yesterday. Apart from two demonstrators who were shot, the others are slightly wounded," a police official told AFP.

He did not make clear who had opened fire.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of protesters, some hurling stones, who gathered outside the parliament building for the debate.


The proposed changes, made public eight months ahead of the next presidential election, were condemned by the normally fractured opposition, civil society, rights groups and even deputies from the ruling party.

It would have introduced a vice president on the presidential ticket and dropped to 25% from 50% the number of votes needed for a first round victory.

Critics saw it as a scheme by Wade, who is 85 and seeking a third term, to avoid a second round of voting and line up his 42-year-old son Karim, a government minister, for the succession.

The protests were the biggest since Wade took power in 2000, with demonstrators taking to the streets around the country.

Scores of people marched in the southern city of Kolda, some erecting barricades and setting alight tyres as they chanted slogans against the proposed constitutional revision and Wade's regime, an AFP reporter said.

In southern Ziguinchor, about 100 held a sit-in in the heart of the city Thursday, brandishing slogans that read "Don't Touch My Constitution" and "Senegal is not a kingdom but a republic", another reporter said.

Scores more marched or rallied in Saint-Louis in the north, with the gatherings bringing together opposition politicians, civil groups and students, many of them wearing red. Police were also out in force.

After hours of unrest Thursday, Justice Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy told lawmakers inside the chamber that the president had "taken into consideration your concerns".

To applause, he added that Wade "asked me to withdraw the draft legislation". The minister said the president had also listened to "the messages from the political parties and religious leaders."

The opposition had denounced the plan as a "coup d'etat" and an election "hijack".

The move to drop the number of votes needed to win to 25% came with Wade running at about 27% in recent popularity polls, according to African Assembly for Human Rights (RADDHO) president Alioune Tine.

The proposal also said the president would be automatically replaced by the vice president in case of his "resignation, permanent impediment or death".


Tine and another RADDHO activist were admitted to hospital on Thursday after being pelted with stones as they tried to join the demonstration outside parliament.

Ruling party followers were believed to be responsible.

"It's deeply disturbing that one of Senegal's leading voices on human rights would face this kind of brutality," Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

"Attacking the messenger is a worrying sign of increasing repression," he said, urging the government to find the attackers and investigate if authorities encouraged or ordered the assault.