Senegal’s under-fire president vows to ‘strengthen’ democracyTue, 20 Jun 2023 16:02:28 GMT

Senegalese President Macky Sall on Tuesday vowed to strengthen “democracy and freedom” in his country, in his first public reaction to deadly unrest sparked by the conviction of a popular opposition leader.”We will pursue our march towards economic development and the strengthening of democracy and freedom in Senegal, with respect of course for the state of law,” Sall said on a state visit to Portugal.”I will make sure that Senegal adheres to the most important democratic standards,” he said after a meeting with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.Senegal is still reeling from violence between June 1-3 that caused at least 16 deaths, according to the authorities. Amnesty International puts the toll at 23, and the opposition at 26.The bloodshed has shaken the West African state’s image for stability, in a region notorious for coups and turmoil.Protests were triggered by the conviction and sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in jail on charges of “corrupting” a young beauty salon worker — a conviction that will make him ineligible for the 2024 presidential elections.Sonko is Sall’s fiercest critic, accusing him of sitting at the top of a corrupt elite and nurturing plans to install a dictatorship.Sall was elected in 2012, when the presidential term was seven years, and re-elected in 2019 after the term was reduced to five years under a constitutional change.Presidents cannot serve for more than two “consecutive” terms — but Sall’s supporters say the clock has been reset after the constitution was revised in 2016.Sall, in Lisbon, also promised to ensure “that our country is not destabilised, whatever the source of this will to destabilise. We will monitor this very closely,” he said.”Our economic profile has become very attractive. This year we are going to start extracting oil and gas. That may also be the reason for all this frenzy,” he suggested.