Feb 21, 2012 – Olusegun Obasanjo Peace Envoy To Senegal
Senegalese police today in Dakar used tear gas to disperse opposition supporters attempting to gather for a banned protest against President Abdoulaye Wade’s bid for a third term in weekend polls. naijagists.com
Small groups of protesters converging on Independence Square, close to the presidency, were met by riot police firing tear gas, an AFP correspondent reported.
Protestors did not respond with stone-throwing, as they had done in several other rallies during the tense run-up to Sunday’s election which has already claimed six lives.
A few hundred yards away, policemen were locked in a standoff with a group of protesters headed by former prime minister Idrissa Seck, who is contesting Sunday’s vote, and music legend Youssou Ndour, whose candidacy was rejected by the constititional court.
Hundreds of supporters gathered around the two opposition leaders’ vehicles, chanting in Wolof, “Gorgui, na dem!” (Get out, old man), in reference to Wade who, at 85, is Africa’s second oldest head of state.
The clash between the protesters and the police came as Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo was being expected today as Africa’s top peace envoy, with the opposition hoping he can talk 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade out of seeking a third term.
Wade’s camp said he was welcome to observe the February 26 election but made it clear there was nothing to mediate for the former Nigerian president.
The former Nigerian leader travels to Senegal as the head of a joint mission between the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
An ECOWAS statement said Obasanjo’s mission was “to engage all the political stakeholders in Senegal with a view to promoting dialogue and ensuring peaceful, fair and transparent elections.”
The country’s opposition has expressed hopes that Obasanjo, who also heads the AU observer mission, will convince Wade to abandon the race.
“It would be poetic justice,” said prominent anti-Wade campaigner Alioune Tine, recalling that Obasanjo had been thwarted from changing the constitution to accomodate his own ambitions for a third term in 2007 elections under pressure from African peers, including Wade.
Despite having served two terms in office, a limit he himself introduced, Wade says later changes to the constitution allow him to serve two more mandates.
Presidential spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye said Obasanjo would be welcomed with open arms but “as of now no mediation is expected.”
“If he takes advantage to talk to someone or the other we are open to that, but we remain firm on certain principles” such as the election taking place on Sunday, he said.
Tuesday protest was called by opposition presidential candidate Cheikh Bamba Dieye, his spokeswoman Awa Marone confirmed. Election-related violence has already claimed six lives.
On Monday despite calls to protest few turned out and police calmly sent them away without the violence seen in preceding days.
Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom reiterated in a statement that the ban was in place “to preserve a sensitive area which houses several state institutions, diplomatic representatives, banks and hospitals.”
He said alternative areas such as Obelisk Square, where the opposition held earlier protests, were available to candidates wishing to hold rallies.
Wade’s spokesman called for “peace and serenity” assuring that all measures had been taken for the holding of a peaceful, democratic and transparent election.
He said nearly 3,000 observers from 101 organisations were accredited. The AU is sending a team of 90 people and ECOWAS 150.
Senegal, one of Africa’s most stable democracies, is facing its most tumultuous polls since independence.
Wade has brushed off opposition concerns as “temper tantrums” and derided criticism from France and the United States, which have both urged him to retire.
He will face 13 opposition contenders, including three former prime ministers, in Sunday’s election.