Fresh protests rock Senegal as death toll climbs

By Ngouda Dione, Sofia Christensen and Diadie Ba

DAKAR (Reuters) -New clashes broke out on Saturday between Senegalese opposition supporters and police in parts of the capital Dakar, the third day of protests in the West African nation sparked by the prosecution of an opposition leader.

Police said the death toll since Thursday had risen to 15, making the protests among the deadliest in recent decades. Two members of the security forces were among those killed, according to the presidency.

After a daytime lull, protesters took to the streets again on Saturday evening, setting up barricades and burning rubbish in Dakar's HLM district. Police there and in the Ngor residential neighbourhood fired tear gas in an effort to disperse angry crowds.

Gas stations and a supermarket were looted overnight on Friday and several districts were strewn with rubble and burned tyres. A water plant has also been targeted, said Interior Minister Felix Abdoulaye Diome.

"There has been a clear intention to disrupt the normal working of our economic activity. The choice of targets is not accidental," Diome told journalists late on Saturday, describing the situation as under control.

He said over 500 people had been detained since the long-running protests first kicked off in 2021.

The catalyst for the latest unrest was the sentencing on Thursday of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in the two-year-old rape case. His supporters say the prosecution was politically motivated and he denies any wrongdoing.

On Thursday, he was acquitted of rape but found guilty in absentia of corrupting a minor and sentenced to two years in prison. That sentence could prevent him from running in the February presidential election, and protesters have heeded his call to challenge authorities.

Minister Diome declined to comment on whether the police planned to detain Sonko imminently to start his prison sentence - a move that would likely further enflame tensions.

The government has enlisted the army to back up riot police stationed around the city. The Dakar district of Ouakam appeared calm on Saturday evening but more than a dozen soldiers guarded a ravaged gas station there.

Abdou Ndiaye, the owner of a nearby corner shop, said he had closed early the two previous days and opened late on Saturday, fearful of the unrest.

"We are so scared because you don't know when the crowds will come, and when they come they take ... your goods, they are thieves," he said in a storeroom stacked with sacks of food and household items.

Senegal, long considered one of the region's most stable democracies, has seen sometimes violent opposition demonstrations sparked by Sonko's court case as well as concerns that President Macky Sall will try to bypass a two-term limit and run again in February.

Sall has neither confirmed nor denied this.

(Additional reporting by Edward McAllister, Bate Felix, Cooper Inveen; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Potter, Christina Fincher, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)