Security vehicles and barricades surrounded the home of a Senegalese opposition leader Wednesday as authorities banned rallies on the eve of a trial that could determine his eligibility to contest next year’s presidential election.
A cordon of police in riot gear barred the way to Ousmane Sonko’s vehicle at the end of his street outside his home in the capital Dakar, footage broadcast live on social networks showed.
Security forces fired tear gas at reporters interviewing a member of parliament who had come to support Sonko, an AFP journalist saw.
Sonko’s confinement comes amid growing tensions a year ahead of the presidential election, raising fears of violence in a state reputed for stability.
Sonko, a firebrand politician who came third in the last presidential election, is expected in court Thursday after being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for “defamation, insult and forgery.”
“He has not been able to leave his home since last night… We don’t know why, there’s no court decision placing him under house arrest,” Ousseynou Ly, spokesman for Sonko’s political party, Pastef, told AFP.
The police set up roadblocks in the streets surrounding his home, an AFP reporter saw.
The prefect of Dakar, Mor Talla Tine, also banned a pro-Sonko demonstration planned for Wednesday afternoon.
He cited “real threats to public order” and a construction site on the chosen route.
The opposition has called for nationwide demonstrations to condemn what it calls manipulation of the justice system and arbitrary arrests.
Rallies have been authorised outside Dakar.
On Tuesday, Sonko held an authorised gathering where he told thousands of supporters that he was “ready to fight.”
In addition to the defamation lawsuit, Sonko is facing separate charges of rape and making death threats, based on a complaint by an employee at a beauty salon where he was getting a massage.
On January 18, he was referred to a criminal court on those charges.
That case has been a source of tension in Senegal for two years.
The two legal affairs could determine whether Sonko will be allowed to run in the presidential elections set for February 2024.
Sonko claims the charges are part of a plot to torpedo his chances.
He has also claimed President Macky Sall intends to override the constitution and run for a third term.
Sall, who was elected in 2012 and again in 2019, has not confirmed or denied whether he seeks a third spell in office.