No fewer than nine persons have been confirmed dead in the violent clashes that erupted between supporters of Ousmane Sonko, the opposition leader convicted of “corrupting youth” and the police, the Interior Ministry has announced on Friday.
Clashes broke on Thursday shortly after the court verdict which sentenced him to two years Imprisonment.
There are fears among his supporters that he may be disqualified from seeking election as the country’s President next year, a contest he is seeking to unseat the incumbent President Macky Sall who has been in power since April 2012.
Properties have been destroyed with cars and buses being set ablaze in the capital Dakar, an Aljazeera report indicates.
Disturbances are also reported in other parts of the country, including the city of Ziguinchor, where Sonko has been mayor since 2022.
“We have noted, with regret, violence that has led to the destruction of public and private property and, unfortunately, nine deaths in Dakar and Ziguinchor,” Interior Minister Antoine Diome said on national television on Friday.
Sonko, 48, did not attend the hearing over an alleged sexual assault where he was accused of raping a woman who worked in a massage parlour in 2021, when she was 20.
He was also accused of making death threats against her. He denied wrongdoing and said the charges were politically motivated.
The court on Thursday cleared Sonko of rape but found him guilty of a “corrupting youth”, an offence described in the penal code as immoral behaviour towards individuals younger than 21.
The justice ministry said the opposition leader could be taken to prison at any time.
Police remained stationed around his home in Dakar as unrest flared in the capital after the verdict.
“With this sentence, Sonko cannot be a candidate,” said one of the opposition leader’s lawyers, Bamba Ciss, citing Senegal’s electoral law.
Sonko’s party, the PASTEF said the verdict was part of a political plot and called on citizens in a statement to “stop all activity and take to the streets”.
A former civil servant, Sonko rose to prominence in presidential elections in 2019, coming third after a campaign that took aim at President Sall and the country’s ruling elite.
He portrays Sall as corrupt and a would-be dictator, while the president’s supporters call Sonko a rabble-rouser who has sown instability.
His initial arrest on rape charges in 2021 sparked several days of clashes that left at least 12 people dead.
Government spokesperson Abdou Karim Fofana said security forces had the situation under control in the capital, Aljazeera reports.