Senegal opposition leader arrested as supporters rally

Controversy has dogged Senegal's opposition leader Ousmane Sonko since last month when Senegalese media reported that an employee at a salon where he went to get a massage filed rape charges against him.

FILE: Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko in the capital Dakar on 21 February 2019. Picture: Carmen Abd Ali/AFP

DAKAR - Senegal's opposition leader Ousmane Sonko was arrested in the capital Dakar on Wednesday, according to his lawyers, ahead of his scheduled court appearance to face a rape charge.

Hundreds of supporters rallied in the city before the 46-year-old was due to appear before a judge for the charge, which he has claimed is politically motivated.

"He has been notified of his arrest on charges of disturbing public order and participating in an unauthorised demonstration," one of Sonko's lawyers, Cheikh Khouraissy, told AFP.

Another of his lawyers, Etienne Ndione, confirmed this account.

Controversy has dogged Sonko since last month when Senegalese media reported that an employee at a salon where he went to get a massage filed rape charges against him.

The opposition leader challenged President Macky Sall in the 2019 vote, eventually finishing third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.

Sonko, the leader of the Pastef party, has denied the charges and accused the president of conspiring to remove him ahead of the 2024 elections.

He was due to appear before a judge in Dakar on Wednesday to answer the rape charge.

However, an arrest warrant was issued before he reached the courthouse, Khouraissy the lawyer said.

Hundreds of opposition followers had followed his motorcade on the way to the court, sounding car horns and singing traditional songs, AFP journalists saw.

Police officers tried to disperse them by firing tear gas canisters.

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The rape allegation against Sonko comes as uncertainty grows over whether Sall, 59, will seek a third term.

Presidents in the former French colony of about 16 million people are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions he intends to run again.

Other presidents in West Africa such as Guinea's Alpha Conde or Ivory Coast's Alassane Ouattara have used constitutional changes to win third terms.

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