Clashes in Senegal as Sonko faces court

Supporters of Ousmane Sonko have clashed with police since his arrest on Wednesday.
Supporters of Ousmane Sonko have clashed with police since his arrest on Wednesday.

Senegalese police have clashed with protesters in several neighbourhoods of the capital Dakar, including in front of a courthouse where an opposition leader made his first appearance since his arrest on a rape charge.

A lawyer for Ousmane Sonko said he was being charged with rape and making threats, allegations that have led to clashes since his arrest on Wednesday between his stone-throwing supporters and police in several towns.

Four people have died in the violence, Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome said in broadcast on national television on Friday, calling the protests as an "organised insurrection".

Sonko, a 46-year-old tax inspector with a strong following among young people, has denied wrongdoing and says accusations are part of a pattern by the authorities of making up criminal charges to block opponents from standing in elections.

On Friday in Dakar, protesters lobbed rocks and other objects at security forces, set up street barricades and burned tyres and debris, while police fired tear gas and stunt grenades to dislodge them.

Authorities have responded by curbing access to the internet and suspending broadcasting by two private TV channels that covered the protests. On Friday they also banned motorcycles and mopeds, popular among Sonko's young political base, from the streets of the capital.

Internet monitor NetBlocks said social media and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube were restricted early on Friday. Bracing for violence, some schools and shops were shut.

Police in full protective gear guarded the courthouse as Sonko appeared before a judge. The hearing will resume on Monday.

United Nations representative in the region Mohamed Ibn Chambas in a statement on Friday called for restraint and calm, and urged the Senegalese government to "take the necessary measures to ease tensions".

Australian Associated Press