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Deadly protests erupted across Senegal this week, following President Macky Sall’s decision to postpone the Feb. 25 presidential elections, a move that critics and analysts say will endanger the country’s reputation as a beacon of democratic stability in West Africa, the Associated Press reported.
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Dakar and other cities, burning tires and blocking traffic as authorities used tear gas to disperse them. Officials said at least one person was killed during violent demonstrations in the northern city of Saint-Louis, Al Jazeera noted.
The violence began when Sall, who faces term limits, announced earlier this month that he was delaying the upcoming vote. He explained that the postponement was aimed at resolving issues over the disqualification of some candidates, as well as a conflict between the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Earlier this week, parliament voted to delay the vote until Dec. 15, a move that triggered nationwide protests.
Tensions have increased over the past few weeks after two major candidates were disqualified from the Feb. 25 elections: The Constitutional Council blocked candidate Karim Wade because he held dual citizenship with France at the time he filed to run.
Meanwhile, the main opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, was disqualified because of a conviction by the Supreme Court for defamation against a minister. His supporters say the charges are intended to prevent him running for office.
Amid the unrest, more than a dozen opposition candidates filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to overturn the postponement. At the same time, the Constitutional Council will decide later this week whether it agrees with parliament’s decision to postpone the vote.
Analysts and think tanks questioned the delay and warned that it underscored the threat of democratic backsliding in Senegal, a country that has been marked by stability in a region plagued by coups and insecurity.
Instead, Sall’s two-term presidency has come under fire, with critics accusing authorities of repressing media and civil society, as well as arresting nearly 1,000 opposition members and activists.
In an interview with the AP, Sall defended the vote delay and denied he had instigated a constitutional crisis. He also brushed off suggestions that he was seeking to remain in office – Sall had previously said he would not run for a third term.
He added that Senegal’s path forward includes launching a national dialogue to create trust and an inclusive environment for elections.