Senegal's president, who is in New York for the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly, has canceled a visit to a university in Pennsylvania, claiming he had to return home because of unrest in his country, the university said Wednesday.
Widener University in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, issued a statement to let students know that the reception Saturday with President Abdoulaye Wade would need to be rescheduled.
"Unrest in Senegal has forced President Wade to adjust his travel plans for an earlier return home," the statement said.
Senegalese government officials weren't immediately available for comment.
The 85-year-old Wade has faced increasing criticism at home due to his plans to run for a third, extra-constitutional term in next year's election, and because of the country's frequent power cuts and the spiraling cost of living. The announcement, however, came as a surprise in Senegal, where no major protests were planned.
The university reception had been planned for weeks and the governor of Pennsylvania as well as two senators were expected to attend, said organizer Joyce Davis, president of the World Affairs Council of Harrisburg which was co-hosting the event with the university and Green Energy USA, a Pennsylvania-based company working on renewable energy in Senegal.
"All I know is we had an event planned, and then we got a series of messages from the (Senegalese) embassy, saying he needed to return because of events in country," Davis said by telephone. "I got a cryptic email from the ambassador. It was written in broken English. Then I got a message on my phone, saying he had to return because of urgent matters," she explained.
The email from Senegalese Ambassador Fatou-Danielle Diagne was sent to the World Affairs Council on Sept. 17. It begins: "The President Wade has Mr Cisse told you yesterday should be leaving the US early than as planned. For urgent matters in Senegal these the latest information wr got from our autorities i am heading to new york with my team."
Opposition leaders in Senegal said they found the president's announcement perplexing. The June 23 Movement, a coalition of opposition groups who take their name from the massive anti-Wade riots that broke out in June, was planning a rally on Friday to mark the three-month anniversary of the initial protest.
"But we don't expect it to be very big _ so frankly, it seems to me that Wade is afraid," said Paul Ndour, a spokesman for opposition candidate Moustapha Niasse who ran against Wade in 2007. "Why else would he be cutting his visit short?"