In Senegal, power and opposition blame each other for the violence

Leaving to demonstrate on Friday June 2, Doudou never returned home

In Senegal, power and opposition blame each other for the violence

Leaving to demonstrate on Friday June 2, Doudou never returned home. The 34-year-old poultry farmer from Bargny, in the greater suburbs of Dakar, had joined the Senegalese capital in the afternoon to protest against the two-year prison sentence of Ousmane Sonko. The opponent, convicted of "corruption of youth", was initially prosecuted for rape by a former employee of a massage parlor. A file assembled from scratch, estimated Doudou, convinced of the existence of a political plot intended to prevent Ousmane Sonko from running for president in 2024.

Around 11 p.m., Doudou was shot in the stomach. The surgery did not save this father of a baby barely a year old. "We were told that we couldn't do anything about it, the bullet had done too much damage," said his father, who did not rule out the possibility of filing a complaint "after consultation with the family".

The poultry farmer is one of 16 victims of the protests over the past few days, according to the interior ministry's tally - the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (Pastef), Ousmane's party Sonko, puts the death toll at 19. While the situation remains volatile, the number of victims is already higher than in March 2021, when 14 people died during the riots triggered by the arrest of Ousmane Sonko on the way to court, for the same rape case. .

For the days of June 1 and 2, the Senegalese Red Cross reported 357 injuries, including 36 members of the defense and security forces. Nearly 500 individuals were arrested, including people in possession of firearms, according to Interior Minister Antoine Félix Diome, who refuses to give more details.

Presence of armed civilians

According to Abdoulaye Seck, head of Amnesty International in Senegal, which is working to identify the victims and the causes of their death, most of the protesters died after "live ammunition" was fired on them.

The Pastef, a party led by Ousmane Sonko, quickly denounced the organization of "the bloody repression of Macky Sall and his illegal militias" and the presence of "illegal brigades of repression which usurp with impunity the sovereign prerogatives of our military forces. order", while still calling for the resignation of the head of state.

The presence of armed civilians in the demonstrations has been confirmed by some observers, such as Amnesty International Senegal. “Are they police or mobilized by political actors? In any case, we have noticed that they sometimes intervene alongside the police or at least that their presence is tolerated by the police," analyzes Abdoulaye Seck.

His colleague Seydi Gassama, executive director of the Amnesty International Senegal section, continues: “These men act without armbands or badges identifying them as members of the security forces. If they are part of it, their activity is illegal because, in the event of a law enforcement operation, the agents must be clearly identifiable. »

Government media counter-offensive

The police have also been accused of using children to protect themselves from protesters after a video was broadcast on social networks showing two officers holding a young boy at arm's length. Faced with men in uniform, demonstrators demand that the little one be released. "We invite the State to seek out and punish the perpetrators of acts compromising the safety and well-being of children," UNICEF responded in a statement on Saturday June 3.

But the authorities defend themselves from illegal acts by the police. "The police can't take a child as a human shield, it's impossible. Manipulation on social networks is common. Who tells you that this child wasn't rather being saved or protected? “, retorts the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Diome.

The Senegalese government has launched a media counter-offensive in the face of the heavy toll of the demonstrations. Saturday evening, in front of the press, Antoine Félix Diome denounced "attacks by occult forces" and "foreign influence", refusing to give more information "for security reasons". The Minister of the Interior nevertheless indicated that he had observed videos posted on social networks where "people with firearms in full circulation shoot at the population when it is not a question of the forces of the order and security".

Earlier on Saturday evening, Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang spoke to the press at the headquarters of the APR, the presidential party, to also stress that a "foreign presence" was in the country. . The minister, who won a first trial against Ousmane Sonko for defamation in early May, called on "Senegalese youth to organize themselves district by district, municipality by municipality, department by department. We will face these people who want to put us in chaos. They should be treated as terrorists and enemies of the nation."

"The worst is surely ahead of us"

The press point was accompanied by a strange scene. As the tourism minister spoke, elsewhere in the RPA headquarters, hordes of frail young adults in civilian clothes collected cash. Outside, a row of white pick-ups without license plates was parked, the same vehicles seen in 2021 filled with "thugs", the undercover gunmen who were spotted suppressing protesters.

On condition of anonymity, one of them explains that he simply goes into the field to get behind law enforcement "to clean up the debris". "These are young RPA activists, young volunteers who organize and mobilize to defend their neighborhood and who mark their physical presence so that it does not degenerate", assures Pape Mahawa Diouf, spokesperson for the coalition. presidential Benno Bokk Yakaar.

Mr. Gassama of Amnesty International is alarmed by this climate. “The worst is surely ahead of us. If Ousmane Sonko is arrested [he is currently under de facto house arrest at his home] and sent to prison or if President Sall announces his candidacy [for a third term], the country could well ignite”, warns-t- he.