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Senegal opposition leader to appear before judge over rape allegations

Controversy has dogged 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 - The head of Senegal's leading opposition party said he will appear before a judge on Wednesday to answer questions over rape allegations.

Controversy has dogged 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.

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

The 46-year-old challenged President Macky Sall in the 2019 vote, eventually finishing third in a race that delivered the incumbent a second term.

Sonko told reporters late on Tuesday that he would obey the summons on Wednesday, but would not give up the fight.

"We will go to the judge, but it is not an abdication," he said, before reiterating his accusations against Sall.

The summons comes after Senegal's parliament on Friday voted to strip Sonko of his legal immunity, paving the way for a police investigation of the case.

Last month, scores of opposition supporters took to the streets to insist on Sonko's innocence and clashed with police.

The rape allegation 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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