Nigeria's former president on Thursday met with Senegalese opposition leaders, including pop star and former presidential aspirant Youssou Ndour, in an effort to broker a solution to the country's political malaise ahead of a tense presidential vote.
Since leaving office in 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo has become one of Africa's top negotiators and upon his arrival Tuesday, he said that although he is technically here as an election observer he will not hesitate to try to "prevent the preventable" by helping mediate the political standoff threatening Senegal.
The opposition has vowed to render the country ungovernable if 85-year-old President Abdoulaye Wade is allowed to run in Sunday's election. The elderly leader has stubbornly refused to step down and is running for a third term even though the constitution only permits two _ a limit he himself introduced.
Daily protests have cut business hours in half in downtown Dakar, where offices are now sending their employees home after lunch to avoid the anti-government demonstrations that have paralyzed the city every afternoon.
Late Wednesday, Obasanjo sat down with Wade, said presidential spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye, who declined to give details of their discussion. The spokesman said that Wade was willing to discuss the situation with Obasanjo as long as certain principles were respected, including the fact that the election will go ahead as planned on Sunday and that Wade will be a candidate in the race.
"It is out of the question that the election will be postponed," Ndiaye told reporters Thursday in reaction to the calls of several opposition candidates who have asked for the poll to be delayed due to the unrest.
Among the people Obasanjo is meeting Thursday is the head of the constitutional court, the legal body that has final say over election disputes. It was the court that disqualified Ndour, one of Africa's most famous musicians, from running. And it was also the court that ruled that Wade could run for a third term, on the argument that he was elected before the new constitution including term limits went into effect.
Senegalese newspapers have reported that the five judges on the court, all of whom are appointed by Wade, have received new cars and their salaries were increased to $10,000 a month ahead of the crucial vote.
Grammy-winner Ndour arrived to see Obasanjo at the Radisson Hotel limping slightly, the remnants of an injury he sustained at a protest this week in which police opened fire on demonstrators with tear gas.
"Obasanjo received me and we discussed several issues. I continue to say that Wade does not have the right to run in the election this Sunday," Ndour said after emerging from his meeting. "I call on Wade to reconsider his position. It's not too late for him."
Obasanjo is also meeting the head of the socialist party, which ruled Senegal for 40 years before 2000, when Wade was elected on a platform of change.
Although he is credited with undertaking the biggest building boom in the country's history, including new roads, stadiums, freeways and schools, Wade's regime is accused of rampant corruption. He has angered the population by giving control of key ministries to his unpopular son, who is referred to in diplomatic cables as "Mr. Fifteen Percent" due to his alleged cut of government contracts.
The White House on Thursday called on Senegalese authorities to "uphold internationally recognized electoral standards," the statement read. "The Senegalese people have come to deserve _ and expect _ nothing less."
In New York, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the violence and reiterated his calls "for a peaceful, credible and transparent process in line with Senegal's longstanding democratic tradition and the aspirations of its people," the statement from his office said.
Associated Press writers Sadibou Marone and Thomas Faye contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.