Senegal shuts consulates abroad amid attacks and political tensions

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Senegal’s foreign ministry announced Tuesday it was temporarily closing its overseas consulates amid raging political tensions that have fueled attacks on its diplomatic missions in Paris, Bordeaux, Milan and New York.

Deadly protests broke out last week in the Senegalese capital Dakar and other cities, following the sentencing of popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.

Several days of rioting left at least 16 people dead and hundreds injured as Sonko’s supporters clashed with security forces.

The fallout from crisis has reverberated abroad with the Senegalese diaspora leading demonstrations at the country’s consulates overseas.

Its foreign ministry says it is taking a “precautionary measure” to shut its diplomatic missions in France, Italy and the United States for the time being, following a “series of attacks.”

The Senegalese consulate in Milan was the worst hit, the ministry said, noting that “machines used to produce passports and national identity cards were destroyed.”

It added that services will resume at the consulates “as soon as the material and security conditions allow it.”

More than 40 protesters believed to be Sonko’s supporters converged on the Senegalese consulate in Milan on Monday, Italian public broadcaster RAI reported, adding that the consulate building was looted and the Consul General Mamadou Lamine Diouf was attacked.

Calm after deadly protests

“Only one case of demonstration was noted yesterday (Monday) in Malika in the Dakar suburbs,” said Nfaly Sadio of the Senegalese Red Cross.

Tensions, however, remain high and there are fears the protests could flare up again as uncertainty swirls around Sonko’s sentencing which could jeopardize his chances of running in next year’s presidential race.

Sonko has yet to be arrested after being convicted last week of “corrupting youth” which according to the country’s penal code is “immoral behavior” towards a person younger than 21. He was absent from court as the sentence was handed down Thursday.

He was cleared of a rape charge and death threats against an employee of a massage parlor.

Justice Minister Ismaila Madior Fall told Senegalese media that the state is prepared to arrest the opposition leader once it gets the nod from the country’s prosecution office. The arrest could happen at any time, he added.

Businesses were gradually re-opening in the capital city Dakar where public and private buildings were destroyed as demonstrators clashed with riot police.

Other troubled cities hit by the deadly clashes are also returning to normalcy, local media reported.

Youth venting anger and frustration

Sonko leads the African Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF) and enjoys widespread support among young people in the country.

When he was first held on the rape charge in 2021, angry youth clashed with police leaving at least eight people dead, Amnesty International reported at the time.

Senegal is considered one of West Africa’s most stable democracies but has in recent years been rocked with deadly protests, mainly from young people who are frustrated about unemployment, inequality and corruption.

In the aftermath of the 2021 protests, President Macky Sall said he understood their anger and pledged to provide extra funding and more opportunities for employment.

However, he has not commented publicly during the latest demonstrations and some Senegalese have called him out.

“Senegal experienced a tragedy that moved the whole world. Unarmed demonstrators, or at most equipped with harmless stones against armored vehicles and shields, the blind repression launched against these citizens produced 16 deaths in 2 days. Not even Macky’s tweet. Contempt,” tweeted journalist Pape Alé Niang.

Sall has been most recently engaged in peace negotiations with the African Union on the Russia-Ukraine war, according to his office.

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