Senegal bans protests ahead of Saturday event

AP News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2011 7:53 AM
Senegal bans protests ahead of Saturday event

Senegal's government on Thursday banned political demonstrations in front of government buildings and on major avenues and squares, just days before a planned opposition protest to call for the president's departure.

A coalition of opposition parties plans to demonstrate Saturday against President Abdoulaye Wade, who has announced he will run for a third term next year, even though the constitution only permits two.

If the opposition goes ahead with Saturday's plan, they will be breaking the law, which would give Senegal's police the right to use force.

Opposition leaders called the ban unconstitutional. A spokesman, Seydou Gueye, said opposition leaders planned to make a decision later Thursday on how to proceed.

"This decision is illegal because our constitution gives citizens the right to hold demonstrations," said Gueye, the spokesman for opposition leader and future presidential candidate Macky Sall. "We reject this decision and we condemn it."

Saturday's protest is planned to coincide with the one-month anniversary of Senegal's largest public demonstration in more than a decade. The June 23 protest was sparked by Wade's attempt to change the constitution to make it easier for him to be re-elected and that would have paved the way for his son to succeed him.

The scale of that protest was unprecedented and took the country by surprise. Tens of thousands of people representing a large cross-section of Senegalese society including elderly men with canes and women in business suits stormed the downtown core of the capital, imprisoning lawmakers inside the parliament where they were due to vote on the proposed law.

The frightened parliamentarians made a U-turn and abandoned the proposed change to the constitution. In his first address to the nation last week, Wade acknowledged he had made an error of judgment by trying to push the law through, but he denied that the law was intended to help him or his son get elected more easily.

The protest has buoyed the country's normally ineffective opposition, which has dubbed itself the June 23 Movement. They are demanding that Wade step down at the end of his term this year and abandon running in the 2012 election. If the 85-year-old Wade is re-elected, he will stay in power past his 92nd birthday, raising the possibility that he could die in office.