Senegal's president sacks key leftist members

Dakar - Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade has sacked two key leftist ministers, distancing himself further from the coalition that brought him to power in 2000 after spending decades in opposition in the west African state.

State radio announced late on Wednesday that the ministers of work and territorial for the Worker's Party (LD/MPT) - would be replaced by members of Wade's ruling Senegal Democratic Party.

No reason was given for the changes, which mark the eighth government overhaul ordered by Wade since he was elected in March 2000, bringing an end to the 40-year domination of Senegalese politics by a socialist regime.

Each overhaul has been marked by the removal of a leftist member of the ruling coalition, beginning in November 2000 with the sacking of Amath Dansokho, the head of the Work and Independence Party, after boisterous criticism of Wade's handling of Senegal's transition from socialism.

Wednesday's move followed months of tensions between the LD/MPT and the ruling party over accusations that Wade's administration was failing to effectively manage the problems facing the country.

Tensions were compounded by the recent parliament vote, led by LD/MPT chief Abdoulaye Bathily, against adopting a controversial amnesty law to prevent prosecutions of those implicated in the murder of Babacar Seye, the deputy chair of the constitutional council, just days before a 1993 parliamentary election.

Emerging as a bright light for francophone west Africa as regional powerhouse Ivory Coast is roiled by conflict, Senegal remains desperately poor, facing deep-seated problems such as chronic unemployment that keeps more than half of its 11 million people below the poverty line.

Wade has also positioned himself as a visible leader for the world's poorest continent, firming relations with the government of US President George W. Bush and hosting a series of heads of state since the year began that includes French President Jacques Chirac and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami.

The only leftist party remaining in government ahead of legislative and presidential elections set for 2006 and 2007 respectively is the tiny And-Jef African Party for Democracy and Socialism.

According to Ismael Madior Fall, a political analyst and researcher at Dakar's Cheikh Anta Diop University, the jettisoning of the left by the Wade government comes as little surprise.

"Wade is trying to forge a new political identity, based first on himself and secondly on his party, ahead of the elections," he said. - Sapa-AFP

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