Senegalese opposition leader ousmane sonko alleged on Tuesday that he was being “illegally detained” by security forces and urged the public to protest.
“I urge all Senegalese to take to the streets,” he said on social media, escalating a political tug of war with the government of President Macky Sall.
Sonko, a government critic who came third in the 2019 presidential election, was declared “unreachable” by his party on Sunday after police in southern Senegal forcibly took him to the capital Dakar.
On Friday he had left for Dakar in a convoy before the result of a rape trial that could leave him ineligible to run in next year’s presidential elections.
He denies the charges against him, but did not attend the first two hearings in the case, citing what he called fears for his safety.
The verdict is expected on Thursday, raising fears of violence.
Senegal is traditionally a beacon of stability in troubled West Africa, but in recent years it has been plagued by turmoil that has sometimes turned deadly.
Sonko, 48, president of the PASTEF-Patriots party, has a strong following among Senegal’s huge youth population.
When he was detained in 2021, several days of clashes left at least 12 dead.
His 500-kilometre (300-mile) “freedom caravan” over the weekend drew crowds of supporters and sparked clashes with security forces in which one man was killed.
He documented the ride live on social media for the first two days.
But there were no posts from Sunday onwards, when police took him to Dakar and blocked access to his home in the capital.
He reappeared on social media in the early hours of Tuesday to say he was being “illegally detained.”
“How can a country that calls itself a democracy justify confinement without any legal basis to a citizen whose only wrong was being a fervent and unwavering opponent of the Macky Sall regime?” public.
“Everyone must rise as one because the power must remain with the people.”
He called for a “national resistance movement” to defend democracy and freedoms.
Feelings among Sonko’s followers run high before the climax of the trial.
Young supporters clashed with police in various areas of Dakar on Monday.
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The trial is based on allegations of sexual assault and death threats, made by a worker at a Dakar beauty salon.
Sonko has said he went there to get a massage for chronic back pain and says the case against him is politically motivated.
His presidential bid has also been overshadowed by a six-month suspended sentence, handed down in March, for defaming Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niangtou.
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Political tensions have also been stoked by Sall’s refusal to rule out running for a third term as president, a move opponents say would be unconstitutional.
Sall was elected in 2012, when the presidential term was seven years, and re-elected in 2019, when the term was reduced to five years.
© Agence France-Presse