DAKAR (IPS) – It was stones against tear gas in the Senegalese capital this morning as students protested the killing of one of their own on Tuesday evening. At least four people have died since Jan. 27, in wider demonstrations against the controversial validation of President Abdoulaye Wade’s candidacy for re-election for a third term. Protests broke out immediately following the validation of Wade’s candidacy by the Constitutional Court on Friday, and a young police officer died in Dakar after being struck by bricks in violent protests. On Monday, a 17-year-old student and a woman in her sixties were killed in Podor, near the border with Mauritania, when police opened fire on demonstrators. Radio France Internationale reported that some 10,000 people participated in Tuesday’s protests. Several people have been arrested since the demonstrations began, among them human rights defender Alioune Tine, the coordinator of M23, the movement of youth and civil society that has spearheaded the protests. Tine, who is also the president of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, was arrested on Saturday and released – without charge – on Monday.
Wade’s opponents argue that he has already served two consecutive terms and cannot stand for re- election on Feb. 26. The incumbent president, who has ruled Senegal since 2000, says that the 2008 constitutional amendment establishing term limits does not apply retroactively to his previous two terms. “The validation of the candidacy of President Wade is a constitutional coup,” rival presidential candidate Cheikh Tidiane Gadio told IPS. A former minister, Gadio is one of 14 candidates running for president. “Wade wants to contest the elections, steal them, and then install his son as the leader of the country. The authorities continue to initimidate and arrest youth… The struggle will continue both nationally and internationally.” Aïssata Tall, a lawyer and spokesperson for the Senegalese Socialist Party, promised to challenge Wade’s candidacy in other courts. “The haste with which the Constitutional Council rendered its decision on the appeal is unconstitutional. If need be, we will go to international courts (to challenge it), because our country has ratified international accords on human rights,” Tall told IPS. “On the legal front, we are prepared to show that the candidacy of President Wade is invalid…”
Macky Sall, at one time Senegal’s prime minister under Wade, but now leader of the Alliance for the Republic party and a presidential candidate, condemned the violence and the aggression directed towards activists. “We have noted that Wade has given uniforms to individuals who have thrown stones. And the police have violently attacked demonstrators with water cannons. Wade is basing his candidacy on force.” Another former prime minister turned presidential candidate, Idrissa Seck, told IPS that he had learned of the protest-related deaths with sadness and concern. The leader of the Rewmi Party (the name means “my country” in the local language, Wolof) condemned the decision of the Constitutional Court to accept what he called an illegal candidacy. “It is a decision with grave consequences for peace, stability and security in Senegal. But beyond that, it is a surprising and disappointing decision for all democrats in Senegal as well as those in friendly countries…” Seck told IPS. Ismaëla Madior Fall, a professor of public law, believes the Constitutional Council cannot ignore the legal force of a declaration by President Wade in 2007, in which he himself stated that he could not stand for re-election after his second term. “In constitutional law, one regards the president of the republic as one of the authentic interpreters of the constitution,” he told IPS. “The statement, the presidential testimony on the meaning of these provisions is something which the Constitutional Council cannot ignore. A constitutional judge must also be attentive to the political class and anticipate the future,” Fall said, adding that people are left with only one option – to demonstrate.
Presidential spokesperson Sérigne Mbacké Ndiaye says it is out of the question to delay the Feb. 26 poll, whatever the current situation. “There is a will, on the part of certain individuals, to sow chaos in this country, but it is not is not an option to delay the poll, much less postpone it.” According to Mbacké Ndiaye, the parties who are demonstrating appear unwilling to take part in the elections and that is why they are issuing “calls to insurrection and resistance”. “The whole world is watching us,” Mbacké Ndiaye said. “We do not have the right to create a difficult situation in the country. My belief is that it is impossible to commit electoral fraud in Senegal because we have an excellent electoral register…” adding that the real and worthwhile battle is the one that is coming in a free, transparent and democratic election.
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