Clashes between Senegalese police and supporters of opposition leader leave one dead and others injured

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — Clashes between police and supporters of Senegal’s opposition leader have left one dead and several injured, friends of the victim told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Aliou Bodian was killed in the southern town of Kolda on Friday, his friend Boubacar Balde said. “It’s a sad atmosphere that took hold of the family,” he said.

Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko had called on his supporters to follow him on a “freedom caravan” from his southern hometown of Ziguinchor, where he is mayor, to the capital, Dakar – some 750 kilometers (465 miles) – where a verdict is expected next week on the charges against him.

Sonko is on trial for rape and death threats against a woman working in a massage parlour, and faces up to 10 years in prison. If found guilty, he would be barred from running in next year’s presidential elections.

Sonko did not attend the trial last week and was tried in absentia. He says he is protesting against injustice and will no longer respond to court summonses. He and his supporters argue his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his bid for the 2024 election.

The opposition leader was recently given a six-month suspended prison sentence in a defamation case against Tourism Minister Mame Mbaye Niang, to whom he now owes some $330,000 in compensation.

It’s unclear how Friday’s clashes began, but Sonko’s Facebook page showed tear gas smoke, as well as a truck blocking the street where the caravan and hundreds of supporters were walking.

Local media reported that several police trucks and security forces were deployed in the area.

The protests have already turned violent as the trial approaches. The Senegalese government has said it will strongly oppose any attempt to disturb public order.

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