Senegal's government said Monday that one of the candidates vying to unseat the nation's elderly leader in this week's election has recruited a militia in a bid to install chaos and make the country ungovernable.
Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, spokesman for Senegal's 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade, refused to identify the candidate and said that authorities would reveal the breadth of the plot in coming days. He said that the unnamed candidate had appointed a retired army colonel to recruit a militia, made-up of 200 ex-soldiers.
"Beyond these 200 soldiers recruited and led by the colonel, there are also youths being recruited in the neighborhoods and in the interior of the country," Mbacke said.
"Those who think that we don't know, let them understand that we have formally identified them. We know who's in charge of recruiting, how much they are paid per day, who is financing it," he said. "Those that are behind this plot are after one thing only _ blood. That lots of blood be spilled in our country. The fundamental thing for them is that chaos installs itself in the country so that the nation becomes ungovernable."
Senegal is less than a week away from a crucial presidential poll and unrest is growing, with protests over the weekend spreading from the capital's downtown core to a dozen neighborhoods and to the interior. The level of violence is highly unusual in this nation of 12 million on Africa's western coast that has long been held up as a model of stability.
Wade, who is just a few months shy of his 86th birthday, has insisted on running for a third term in Sunday's ballot, despite the increasingly strident calls for him to step down.
Both the United States and France have urged Wade to retire, and former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is known for being the first military leader of Nigeria to agree to hand power to civilians, is due in Dakar shortly to help negotiate a solution.
At least six people have been killed in recent demonstrations and on Monday, the country's opposition led another protest across a main commercial boulevard in the capital. The rally, which included appearances by three of the 13 presidential candidates seeking to unseat Wade, proceeded peacefully, unlike in previous days.
As the crowd gathered at the mouth of the bustling Sandaga market in Dakar, a young man held up a cardboard sign that said, "Don't touch my table." It's a reference to the destructive tactics of opposition supporters, who have dragged the market tables used by women to sell their vegetables into the streets in order to set them on fire.
On Sunday, there were fires every few hundred yards in Dakar, fueled by the tables of streetside sellers, and by the tires of people's cars.
While Wade's popularity is at a low point, opposition activists have also started to frustrate the population because their protests have often degenerated into vandalism and disrupted daily commerce. On Twitter, people began re-tweeting a comment calling for opposition leaders to reimburse around $130,000 in lost goods to the "marchands ambulants," or walking sellers of Dakar whose livelihood has been most affected.
Associated Press writer Thomas Faye in Senegal, Dakar contributed to this report.