In Normally Stable Senegal, Police, Protesters Face Off

Originally published on February 20, 2012 9:06 am

Police fired tear gas into crowds of demonstrators in Senegal's capital on Friday. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton was on what is usually a busy street in Dakar and she told our Newscast unit that all day there has been a cat-and-mouse game between police and young protesters.

Protesters are throwing rocks and pieces of concrete and police have responded with tear gas.

The AP reports that the protests come a little more than a week before presidential elections and the demonstrations have been raging for weeks. Protesters are demanding the departure of 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade, who is using a constitutional amendment passed in 2001 under his watch, to run for third term.

The AP adds:

"On Avenue William Ponty, police used grenade launchers to throw volleys of tear gas down the wide boulevard. Small groups of youths tried to defy them, with a dozen or so braving the police cordon.

"They held their arms up in an X, a symbol used by the opposition to denote the bound hands of the people in this normally placid nation of 12 million. "Liberate the people," they screamed, before being chased back by the police.

"Senegal is just a week away from a much-anticipated presidential election, the first in five years. Electoral law allows candidates to hold rallies in the pre-election period, but the interior minister issued a statement this week saying that he had refused to authorize the protests because of the threat to public order. He described the various demonstrations that have disrupted daily life in Senegal for the past two weeks as 'a crime spree by vagabonds.'"

Ofeibea reports that since its 1960, Senegal has been "a bastion of civility and democracy," so these demonstrations and government crackdown are unusual. The AP reports that two people have been killed because of the demonstrations.

Correction at 9:10 a.m. ET, Feb. 20: Our apologies for an earlier typo in the headline. It's been fixed.

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