Dakar - Riot police fired teargas and rubber bullets on Wednesday to disperse protesters trying to hold a banned march against President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term in an election this month.
As the campaign heats up ahead of the February 26 poll, the electoral commission said it had not yet received an electoral budget of 4.6-million euros from the state, making its work “extremely difficult”.
The highly anticipated election in a country generally regarded as a democratic success story in Africa, has been riven with tensions over 85-year-old Wade's efforts to seek a third term in office.
The latest protest by the anti-Wade June 23 Movement (M23) seeking to pressure him to step aside was thwarted as police fired teargas and rubber bullets at hundreds of protesters.
Led by presidential candidate Ibrahima Fall, demonstrators had attempted to march to Independence Square in the heart of the city, a few hundred metres from the presidential palace.
At the square itself, another candidate Bamba Dieye rallied a small crowd of people, which grew to several hundred as riot police blocked the road to the presidency.
Someone had spray-painted “Wade Degage” (Get Out Wade) and other graffiti on the street circling the square. Police fired volleys of teargas and sprayed protesters with water as they dispersed and later regrouped.
Perched on the roof of a 4X4, Dieye and Fall denounced “the violation of their constitutional rights”.
As calm and traffic returned to the square, music superstar Youssou Ndour made an appearance.
Senegal's most famous export, Ndour has remained at the head of the anti-Wade campaign even after his own candidacy was blocked by the constitutional council, the country's top court.
“Senegal needs to free itself, to rediscover its democracy... We are allowing a dictatorship to set in here,” he said as dozens of fans clamoured around holding up cellphones and cameras.
Police on Tuesday blocked youths from settling in another square in Dakar where they planned a permanent sit-in.
Before the ban was announced on Tuesday, M23 co-ordinator Alioune Tine had vowed that the march would go ahead.
“We condemn the Senegalese administration's biased attitude. At this rate, it will end up being responsible for violence.”
On January 27, when the country's highest court validated Wade's candidacy for a third term which the opposition says is unconstitutional, violent protests erupted in Dakar and through the country, leaving four people dead.
M23, which includes several presidential candidates, has vowed a united front as it pressures Wade to step aside.
Wade, Africa's second oldest leader after Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, argues that changes to the constitution in 2008 mean he can serve two more mandates.
Despite national anger and criticism from abroad, Wade has remained defiant, campaigning energetically throughout the country and promising development and ambitious programmes.
Wade, who was first elected in 2000 after 25 years in opposition, is facing 13 opposition candidates, including two of his former prime ministers and the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, Ousmane Tanor Dieng.
Initial euphoria over his 2000 win has given way to fatigue over corruption, electricity cuts, rising fuel and food prices while Wade focuses on big legacy construction projects.
He is also accused of trying to groom his son Karim Wade as his successor.
The European Union observer mission on Wednesday called in a statement for “more transparency” in the delivery of voters cards, urging the government to properly inform citizens of the procedures involved.
Electoral commission spokesperson Issa Sall said that of 5.3-million people who registered to vote, up to 350 000 had not yet collected their voter cards. - Sapa-AFP