Senegalese opposition politician Ousmane Sonko was forcibly removed from his vehicle by security forces on Thursday after his supporters were tear-gassed, in a fresh spat of tension ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The incidents come after the postponement of a politically charged trial that could decide Sonko’s eligibility for the upcoming presidential election, the date for which was also announced Thursday.
Video footage broadcast live on social media shows the politician, who finished third in the 2019 presidential election and declared himself a candidate for the 2024 race, being forcibly removed from the back seat of his vehicle by uniformed men.
They are seen smashing the window while Sonko says he refused to get out.
Then the men open the door and pull the politician out by the arm.
After struggling for a few moments, Sonko allowed himself to be taken away.
The police prefecture later confirmed that he was taken home.
The incidents come amid rising tensions in the West African country, which is widely known for its stability in a region where political turmoil is rife.
Earlier, security forces used tear gas to disperse about a hundred Sonko supporters trying to enter the courthouse in the capital, Dakar.
Sonko, 48, has enjoyed rapid political rise, thanks in part to his popularity with young people.
But he has been repeatedly summoned to court in the past two years.
In this case, Sonko is being sued by Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang for “defamation, insult and counterfeiting”.
As with previous hearings, there was a heavy police presence on the streets of Dakar ahead of Thursday’s hearings.
A stampede followed Sonko’s entry into the courthouse, with guards preventing supporters from entering the room, which was already filled with journalists and members of the opposition.
The trial then opened, but the judge ordered a postponement until March 16.
Sonko was expected in court on February 2 but did not show up. His attorneys claimed he did not receive a subpoena.
On Wednesday evening, Sonko announced that he would appear in court on Thursday and called on “all Senegalese” to join him there.
In March 2021, Sonko was arrested on rape allegations, which sparked violence that killed around a dozen people.
A judge has ordered him to stand trial in the rape case, although the trial date is not yet known.
Sonko claims the courts are being used to marginalize him – a charge that authorities have denied.
In recent years, several other prominent opponents of the President have had their political careers cut short by legal cases.
The authorities also announced on Thursday that the next presidential elections are scheduled for February 25, 2024.