Thousands of Senegalese march with elections back onSat, 17 Feb 2024 15:41:37 GMT

Thousands on Saturday joined the first authorised protest in Senegal’s capital since President Macky Sall postponed elections for his successor before a top court overturned his ruling.Sall’s last-minute move to delay the February 25 poll triggered traditionally stable Senegal’s worst crisis in decades.The Constitutional Council intervened on Thursday and the president, under growing pressure at home and abroad, vowed to organise the elections “as soon as possible”, without any date being set.On the streets of Dakar, demonstrators donned black T-shirts emblazoned with “Aar Sunu Election” (Protect our Election), the name of the civil society collective that organised the peaceful protest.They held up placards reading “Free Senegal”, “Respect the election date” and “No to a constitutional coup d’Etat”.Gendarmes were out in force around the march area, but they did not wear riot gear as they had during previous demonstrations.Tensions have eased since the council demanded the vote take place “as soon as possible” and the authorities gave the go-ahead for the march.”Today’s watchword is mobilisation,” said presidential candidate Malick Gakou on the march.”The State of Senegal has no room for error any longer and must organise the election in March so that the handover of power between president Sall and the new president can take place on April 2,” the end of the official mandate for Sall, who has been in power since 2012 and decided not to run again.His decision to follow the council’s call “lifts a lot of stress”, said rapper El Maestro le Kangham, draped in a Senegal flag.”Personally I don’t trust him and I’m waiting to see if he keeps his word,” the 34-year-old demonstrator said.At the end of the march, the Aar Sunu Election collective issued a communique calling on its members to “continue the mobilisation, to remain alert, and to monitor the republican process.”¬†Previous attempts to stage protests against the postponement of the ballot, which parliament had decided to stage on December 15, were all banned and ended in violence with large numbers of arrests. Three people were killed on February 9.Sall said he called off the vote over disputes about the disqualification of potential candidates and concern about a return to unrest seen in 2021 and 2023.