Senegalese schools shut amidst protest

Senegal’s education ministry announced on Sunday that schools would be closed until March 15, following days of violent demonstrations that have paralyzed parts of the capital Dakar and are expected to continue next week.

At least five people have died in protests triggered by the arrest of Senegal’s most popular opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, on Wednesday. In a country generally regarded as one of West Africa’s most stable, this is the worst political instability in years.

Sonko, who has a large following among the youth, was arrested after a beauty salon employee accused him of raping her. Sonko disputes the accusation and claims it is made for political reasons.

President Macky Sall’s critics have called for further demonstrations on Monday.

In a statement, the education ministry “strongly recommends that students’ parents keep a close eye on their children and keep them from the risks that come from the protests,”

Last week, thousands of angry demonstrators clashed with police in Dakar, turning the city into a war zone. For days, several stores, gas stations, and banks were closed. Large queues cropped up for petrol and groceries on Sunday, during what is observed be a brief respite in the unrest.

President Sall has been under increasing political pressure, with allegations that he unjustly torpedoes political rivals and fears that he will attempt to prolong his rule beyond his two-term limit.

The economic destruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a nightly curfew imposed to stop it spreading, have only added to people’s dissatisfaction.

On Saturday, tensions rose after a 17-year-old boy was killed in southern Senegal by gunfire.

On Sunday, Senegal’s powerful League of Imams and Preachers called for Sonko’s release and a “return to calm.”

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