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West Africa bloc urges calm in Senegal

At least four people have died in protests that began on Wednesday after Sonko, 46, was arrested on charges of disturbing public order in the capital Dakar.

A Senegalese gendarme patrols and clears the streets of Dakar after supporters of Senegal's opposition leader Ousmane Sonko gathered and violent protests broke out in the capital, on 3 March 2021. Picture: AFP

DAKAR, Senegal - The Economic Community of West African States on Saturday urged all parties in Senegal to exercise restraint, after days of clashes between police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

At least four people have died in protests that began on Wednesday after Sonko, 46, was arrested on charges of disturbing public order in the capital Dakar.

Police arrested the him after scuffles with opposition supporters broke out while Sonko was on his way to court to answer to a separate rape charge -- which he says is politically motivated.

Violent clashes continued in the capital Dakar through Friday, in the worst unrest the country has seen in years, before easing off.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called in a statement on Saturday for "all parties to exercise restraint and remain calm".

It also urged the government "to take the necessary measures to ease tensions and guarantee the freedom to demonstrate peacefully".

Sonko, who is considered a challenger to President Macky Sall, is due back in court on Monday to answer to the rape charge.

The rape allegation against him comes amid uncertainty over whether Sall, 59, will seek a third term.

Senegalese presidents are limited to two consecutive terms, but Sall launched a constitutional review in 2016, raising suspicions he intends to run again.

Senegal, a former French colony of 16 million people, is often heralded as a beacon of stability in a volatile region.

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