Senegalese police shoot tear gas, detain opposition leader

Senegalese riot police fired tear gas at protesters calling for early parliamentary elections, beating back the crowd with rifle butts and detaining the head of the country's main opposition party.
Moustapha Niasse, who in addition to leading the opposition has twice served as Senegal's prime minister and is a former U.N. special envoy, was dragged by the scruff of his neck through the street Saturday, before being taken into custody by police, witnesses and opposition party officials said.
The 67-year-old was released several hours later, along with other detained members of the opposition, who had proceeded with the planned march even though they did not have the necessary permit.
One opposition party leader, Mata Sy Diallo, who heads the women's division of the Alliance for the Forces of Progress, fainted in the onslaught of tear gas and was taken away by ambulance, witnesses said.
Senegal, long touted as an example of democracy in a sea of corrupt West African states, has met with criticism from the opposition after its government unexpectedly canceled parliamentary elections last year, rescheduling them for February.
Sparking the protest was the interior ministry's decision two weeks ago to reschedule the parliamentary elections a second time, pushing them back to June.
"Today, Senegal is finishing dead last in the democracy class. Security forces brutalized our people when all we're trying to do is march. It's a right that's enshrined in our constitution," said Mamadou Ly, the permanent secretary of the Alliance for the Forces of Progress.
The director of national security for the Senegalese police said the demonstrator's had brought the violence onto themselves. "The protesters did not have a permit to march. They chose to do so anyway, violating the law. The police was simply doing its homework," said Leopold Diouf, who oversees the country's security forces.
Although the country's constitution allows marches, the protesters were not granted a permit by Dakar authorities, a technicality which opposition leaders say is being used to undermine the basic tenet of the constitution. City officials declined to give the permit saying they could not ensure the safety of the marchers.
Opposition party leaders say the city has never granted a marching permit to members of the opposition .
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade is up for re-election in February.
Niasse was the country's foreign minister between 1978 and 1983, when he briefly became prime minister. He was appointed prime minister a second time under Wade in 2000, before resigning 11 months later. In 2002, he was appointed a U.N. special envoy to the Democratic Republic of Congo by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Associated Press Television News senior producer Bishr El-Touni and writer Serigne Adama Boye in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

Updated : 2021-01-28 23:58 GMT+08:00