Senegalese demonstrators clash with riot police as they protest against the postponement of the Feb. 25 presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal February 9, 2024. Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
The death toll amid protests in Senegal over the postponement of the presidential election until December has climbed to three, as concerns grow that one of the remaining democracies in coup-hit West Africa is under threat.
The announcement of the delay just three weeks ahead of the planned Feb. 25 vote triggered violent clashes on Friday between protesters and police in Dakar and several other cities, in a wave of unrest that many fear will spill over into protracted instability.
President Macky Sall has said the delay is necessary because electoral disputes threatened the credibility of the poll, but some opposition lawmakers have denounced the move as an "institutional coup."
As the public outcry mounts, the West African regional bloc ECOWAS and foreign powers have urged Sall to put the country back on a regular electoral footing.
The death of one young man amid reported protests in the southern city of Zinguinchor on Saturday evening took the number of those killed since Friday to three, according to Cartogra Free Senegal (CFS), a civil society platform tracking casualties.
"We tried to save him when he arrived at hospital and unfortunately he died in intensive care," Ndiame Diop, the manager of Ziguinchor hospital, told Reuters, saying it was not possible to determine the exact cause of death without an autopsy.
A spokesperson for the interior ministry did not respond to a request for comment. The ministry has so far confirmed only one death, a student in the northern city of Saint-Louis on Friday. Reuters has not been able to independently confirm a reported second death: a 23-year-old merchant on the outskirts of Dakar, according to CFS.
The U.S. Bureau of African Affairs said in an online post on Saturday that it was saddened to learn of the first two deaths.
"We urge all parties to act in a peaceful and measured manner, and we continue to call on President Sall to restore the electoral calendar, restore confidence, and bring calm to the situation," it said.
What happens next is not clear.
Opposition lawmakers and presidential candidates who reject the postponement have filed legal challenges and said they will refuse to recognise Sall as president after his original mandate expires in early April.
The postponement bill backed by parliament included the extension of his tenure until his successor is installed after the election now reset for Dec. 15.
"If President Macky Sall does not restore power to us on April 3, we will set up a parallel government of national unity," opposition lawmaker Guy Marius Sagna said on the radio on Sunday.
By Diadie Ba and Ngouda Dione