Death toll climbs in Senegal after two days of violent protests

Jun 5, 2023, 11:11 AM

DAKAR, June 3 (Reuters) - The death toll from anti-government protests in Senegal has risen to 15, police said on Saturday, as authorities in the capital Dakar began to clear up debris and secure looted shops after two days of unrest.

Most of Dakar appeared quiet on Saturday, but tensions remained high after violent protests in several cities killed six people on Friday, taking the total number killed this week to 15, a police spokesperson said by phone.

The toll has now surpassed the number killed in multi-day protests in 2021, when supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko first took to the streets over a rape trial they say is politically motivated.

Sonko denies any wrongdoing.

Sonko's sentencing on Thursday, which could prevent him from running in the February presidential election, sparked the latest turmoil as protesters heeded his call to stand up to the authorities.

Mobs smashed windows and looted at least two gas station shops overnight in Dakar's Ouakam and Ngor districts, while a supermarket in densely populated Grand Yoff was torched and ransacked. Rubble littered the roads that were scarred black by fires.

"The police couldn't do anything, there were too many of them. The police had to leave after several attempts to control the crowd with tear-gas grenades", said resident Khadija by the supermarket whose interior was gutted and strewn with broken shelves, mud and trash.

The government has enlisted the army to back up the many riot police still stationed around the city. Over a dozen soldiers guarded the trashed gas station in Ouakam on Saturday, as some shop owners tentatively opened their doors, although streets were unusually empty.

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 that he said was the worst he'd seen in his 15 years of business.

"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.

"There are people who demonstrate but there are others who do whatever they want."

The unrest is the latest in a string of opposition protests in Senegal, long considered one of West Africa's most stable democracies, sparked by Sonko's court case as well as concerns that President Macky Sall will try to bypass the two-term limit and run again in February elections.

Sall has neither confirmed nor denied this.