Senegal sees unrest ahead of opposition leader’s rape trial; officer hit by police vehicle killed

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A police officer died and several demonstrators were injured Monday during clashes between security forces and supporters of Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in his hometown, according to an interior ministry statement and media reports.

The unrest in Ziguinchor, a town in southern Senegal, came a day before the expected start of Sonko’s rape trial in the country’s capital, Dakar. Sonko was charged based on a woman’s accusations that he assaulted her when she worked at a massage salon.

If convicted, Sonko faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president.

According to local authorities, a police armored vehicle struck and killed the officer as it was reversing. The government offered condolences to the officer’s family, calling his death a ‘tragic accident’.

Clashes occurred near Sonko’s home, where he has been staying while vowing to defy any summons to appear in Dakar for the rape trial. Sonko challenged President Macky Sall in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and was elected mayor of Ziguinchor last year.

Supporters gathered outside his home starting Sunday evening, fearing police would move to arrest him to bring him to court. Messages have circulated on social media calling for supporters to act as Sonko’s “shields.” and defend their leader from arrest.

Sonko recently received a 6-month suspended prison sentence in a defamation case and declared he would no longer respond to court summonses.

His lawyers told reporters at a news conference in Paris on Monday that Sonko had not yet received a summons but would appear “if conditions were met.”

Senegalese police deployed extra officers in Ziguinchor and elsewhere in Senegal.

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