1 Dead As Senegal Protest Turns Violent

Published February 1, 2012 1:27AM (EST)

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Police opened fire with tear gas on demonstrators Tuesday, leaving at least one person dead in Senegal's capital where hundreds had gathered to protest a court ruling allowing the nation's elderly leader to run for another term.

Private radio station RFM said that a man was run over by the police's armored-personnel carrier. An Associated Press reporter saw the young man fall to the ground after the tank-like truck forced its way through the knot of protesters. Police launched their assault after demonstrators began chanting, "Palace! Palace!" indicating that they planned to march on the presidential palace.

The demonstrators are protesting a ruling by the country's top legal body, the constitutional council, which validated President Abdoulaye Wade's bid to run for another term in next month's election. The 85-year-old Wade is seeking a third term, even though the constitution was revised soon after he was elected in 2000 to impose a two-term limit. Wade argues that the law is not retroactive, and since he was already in office when it took effect, it should not apply to him.

Clouds of tear gas hung over the Colobane, Fass and HLM neighborhoods of the capital. Burning tires could be seen at regular intervals, as well as overturned market tables. Besides the death of the young man, AP reporters saw four injured civilians, who were taken away on stretchers by emergency responders.

Senegal has historically been the most peaceful nation in West Africa, a region that has been periodically rocked by military coups. By contrast in Senegal, the roots of democracy run deep, and since independence from France in 1960, Senegal has never had a coup d'etat. The 2000 election that brought Wade to power after 25 years in the opposition was held up as a model, because the former leader telephoned Wade to concede defeat — a gesture unheard of in Africa at the time.

RFM radio, owned by the pop star Youssou Ndour, reported the death of the young man, airing an interview with Dr. Babacar Niang, head of Suma Assistance, the paramedic company that attempted to resuscitate him.

Police chief Harona Sy confirmed the death of the youth, but denied that police were responsible, saying that he had checked all of their vehicles and found no traces of blood, according to the state news agency.

"If there was the death of a man, then maybe we should talk about an accident, and we have opened an investigation," Sy said.

In the northern town of Podor on Monday, two other civilians were killed including a woman in her sixties after paramilitary police opened fire with live rounds.

By Salon Staff

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