DAKAR – Senegalese opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, whose arrest sparked violent protests in the country’s major cities, was charged on Monday with rape but released on bail under judicial supervision, his lawyers confirmed.
Sonko appeared in court in the capital Dakar, where he faced questions about a rape charge, which he denied, maintaining his earlier position the claims were politically motivated.
Five people have since been killed in days of the clashes that have threatened to erode Senegal’s reputation as a beacon of stability in West Africa.
“He is going home. He is free,” Me Etienne Ddione -one of his lawyers told members of the press in the capital.
Sonko’s supporters have called for three more days of protests starting on Monday and schools in Dakar have been ordered to close for a week.
Sonko, 46, was arrested on Wednesday March 3, on charges of disturbing public order.
Sonko finished third in the 2019 election, which saw President Macky Sall win a second term in office, but many political analysts believe that the youngster is a future presidential contender in the West African state.
He is popular among young Senegalese.
During previous protests, people hurled stones at police, looted shops and torched cars.
The protests calmed on Saturday but the call from the opposition collective under the Movement for the Defence of Democracy for more demonstrations has led to fears the violence could escalate.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States – Ecowas has called for peace, stating: it had ‘significant concerns.’
Foreign embassies in Dakar, including the United States, and the European Union issued a joint statement on Sunday urging non-violence and dialogue.
President Macky Sall is yet to publicly address the situation but is facing pressure to speak on the matter.