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Senegal to ease virus curfew after angry protests

More than 70 people were arrested on Wednesday after demonstrations, focused on the curfew, broke out in several cities.

This hand out photo taken and distributed by Présidence Sénégal on 11 May 2020 shows Senegalese President Macky Sall announcing a softening of state emergency measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus during an address to the nation from the Presidential Palace in Dakar. Picture: AFP

DAKAR - Senegal said Thursday it would ease an anti-coronavirus curfew and lift restrictions on inter-city travel following two nights of protests that were marked by violence.

Interior Minister Aly Ngouille Ndiaye said the start of the 9pm to 5am curfew would be pushed back by two hours, to 11pm.

"From today, transport restrictions across the country are being lifted, with the curfew being maintained from 11pm to 5am," he said on state television.

"Gatherings in public or private places, restaurants, gyms, casinos will also benefit from these relaxation measures," he said.

More than 70 people were arrested on Wednesday after demonstrations, focused on the curfew, broke out in several cities.

One of the centres of unrest was Touba, Senegal's second largest city located around 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of the capital Dakar, and the seat of a politically powerful Sufi Muslim order, the Mouride Brotherhood.

Several police vehicles there were set ablaze and a coronavirus treatment centre and post office buildings were attacked, sources said.

The Brotherhood's leader, Serigne Mountakha Mbacke, appeared on television late Tuesday to urge protesters to go home and vowed to address the problems.

The curfew was imposed by President Macky Sall on 23 March, and has been implemented in tandem with a ban on travel between Senegal's regions.

Demands for an easing of restrictions have mounted in the face of the plight of many Senegalese who depend on day-by-day jobs.

Around 40 percent of the population live below the threshold of poverty, according to a World Bank benchmark.

The West African state has recorded 3,932 cases of coronavirus, 45 of them fatalities, according to a toll compiled by AFP.

The figures are low compared to countries in Europe and the United States, although experts caution that, as elsewhere in Africa, Senegal is vulnerable to the pandemic because of its weak health system.