DAKAR, Senegal -- Clashes between police and supporters of the opposition leader in Senegal left one person dead and several injured, friends of the victim told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Aliou Bodian was killed Friday in the city of Kolda in the country's south, said friend Boubacar Balde. “It’s a sad atmosphere that has overtaken the family," he said.
Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko had called on his supporters to follow him in a “freedom caravan” from his hometown of Ziguinchor, in the south and where he is the mayor, to the capital, Dakar — some 750 kilometers (465 miles) away — where a verdict is expected next week on the charges that he is facing.
Sonko is being tried for rape and death threats against a woman working at a massage parlor, and could face up to 10 years in prison. If convicted, he would would be barred from running in next year’s presidential elections.
Sonko did not attend the trial last week and was judged in absentia. He said he is protesting against injustice and will no longer respond to court summons. He and his supporters maintain his legal troubles are part of an effort by President Macky Sall’s government to derail his candidacy in the 2024 elections.
The opposition leader recently received a six-month suspended prison sentence in a defamation case against Minister of Tourism Mame Mbaye Niang, to whom he now owes some $330,000 in compensation.
It’s not clear how Friday's clashes began, but on Sonko’s Facebook page smoke from tear gas could be seen, 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 to the area.
Demonstrations have already turned violent in the lead-up to the trial. Senegal's government says it will stand firm against any attempt to disrupt public order.