By BABACAR DIONE
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Police in Senegal smashed the window of a car in which a top opposition leader was sitting and forced him from the vehicle Thursday, marking the latest unrest surrounding a likely challenger to the ruling party in elections next year.
Videos recorded by his driver and posted on social media by his supporters showed police physically removing Ousmane Sonko from the back seat of his car after he appeared in a Dakar court.
Authorities later escorted the 46-year-old politician to his residence, according to Senegalese media. Sonko’s supporters saw the incident as the latest attempt to cut short his political career, including his likely presidential candidacy in 2024.
Sonko finished third in Senegal’s 2019 presidential election and has called on President Macky Sall to say publicly that he won’t seek a third term.
The opposition leader was in court as part of a civil lawsuit against him by Senegal’s tourism minister for defamation and public insults. The case stems from accusations that Sonko made against the minister during a news conference late last year. A judge on Thursday postponed the trial until next month.
After leaving the courthouse, Sonko greeted his supporters from his car. Police officers soon began firing tear gas at the crowd, according to AP journalists at the scene. The officers then stopped Sonko’s car and demanded that he get out.
“The convoy of the main opposition leader is blocked by combat vehicles,” Sonko’s lawyer, Cire Cledor Ly, wrote in a text message to The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon.
It was unclear why police broke the car’s windows and the government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Along with the defamation trial, Sonko also faces rape charges based on accusations from a female employee said she was assaulted at a massage salon. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and would be barred from running for president.
In 2021, days of deadly protests erupted after Sonko was arrested for disturbing public order while on his way to the courthouse for a scheduled appearance in the rape case. At least 13 people died during the worst violence to rock Senegal in years.
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