World (AP)

Senegal dissolves opposition party, restricts internet ahead of next year’s presidential election | AP News

Senegal dissolves opposition party, restricts internet ahead of next year’s presidential election | AP News

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Senegal’s government Monday dissolved a major opposition party hours after the party’s popular president and opposition leader said a judge ordered his arrest.

Ousmane Sonko, a towering opposition figure widely supported by Senegal’s youth, was in prison Monday as he awaited trial for new criminal charges, said his party’s communications director, El Malick Ndiaye. It is unclear when the trial will take place. He is accused of calling for insurrection, conspiring against the state, threatening national security and other charges.

“I’ve just been unjustly placed under a committal order,” Sonko wrote on his Facebook page Monday, which communications director Ndiaye confirmed.

Earlier on Monday, Senegal’s interior minister issued a statement claiming Sonko’s opposition party had been dissolved. The Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF) party has “frequently called on its supporters to take part in insurrectionary movements,” Antoine Félix Diome, Senegal’s interior minister, alleged in a statement.

Diome blamed the opposition party’s leaders for causing loss of life and the looting of properties during protests in June against the prosecution of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who is seen as a key challenger in the election.

The opposition party’s dissolution was criticized by former Prime Minister Aminata Touré as an “unprecedented setback” in the West African nation’s democratic history. It further raised concerns about next year’s presidential election in Senegal, long considered a bastion of democracy and a regional leader in diplomacy.

“In his despotic determination to hold on to power in Senegal, albeit by proxy, Macky Sall has just opened the floodgates to chaos by imprisoning, on spurious grounds, his main opponent Ousmane Sonko,” said a PASTEF communiqué Monday, after Diome’s claimed to have disbanded the party.

“Even if they dissolve PASTEF, they can’t dissolve its spirit,” Ndiaye said.

The Senegalese government, meanwhile, restricted mobile internet services on Monday, a measure taken “due to the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages on social networks,” according to Moussa Bocar Thiam, the communications minister.

Residents throughout the country reported they were not able to access the internet.

Sonko said a local judge in the capital Dakar ordered him held temporarily following fresh charges against him Saturday, including conspiracy against the state and calls for insurrection. The charges are different from an earlier one of corrupting youth. That led to Sonko’s conviction in June, which ignited deadly protests across the nation with 23 people killed.

Sonko is popular among Senegal’s youth and has been seen as a threat to the ruling party ahead of the 2024 election. His supporters have said the charges are to prevent him from running again for president after he placed third in the 2019 race.

From his cell in Sebikotane prison, just outside the capital Dakar, Sonko can run for president in the 2024 election, communications director Ndiaye said, a claim the AP could not immediately verify.

“If the Senegalese people, for whom I have always fought, abdicate and decide to leave me in the hands of (President) Macky Sall’s regime, I will, as always, submit to God’s will,” Sonko wrote on his Facebook page.