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Police, protesters clash as Senegal vote nears

By Nick Loomis, for CNN
updated 1:47 AM EST, Sat February 18, 2012
A Senegalese policeman stands guard in Dakar during a demonstration against President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term.
A Senegalese policeman stands guard in Dakar during a demonstration against President Abdoulaye Wade's bid for a third term.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Protests are banned in downtown Dakar
  • The opposition does not want the president to run for a third term
  • At least four people have died in protests since January 27

Dakar, Senegal (CNN) -- Senegalese police clashed Friday night with protesters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them from downtown Dakar, where protests have been banned. The unrest was part of the opposition against the candidacy of President Abdoulaye Wade ahead of February 26 elections.

After Friday prayers in the Muslim-majority country, police blocked protesters from reaching the capital's Place de l'Independence, the demonstration's planned location. Confrontations occurred less than a mile from the Presidential Palace, in the city's commercial center.

At least four people have died in protests in Senegal since January 27, when the country's highest court, the Constitutional Council, cleared the 85-year-old president to run for a third term, government officials have said. The opposition says that the court was compromised and the constitution limits presidents to two terms. He has been in office since 2000.

A court ruled in his favor last month after the incumbent argued that he is exempt because he took office before the term limit was put in place.

Amadou Sow, a 38-year-old security guard, went downtown on his day off to protest Wade's candidacy and to exercise his right to protest in one of Africa's most stable democracies.

"We're in an electoral campaign and every citizen is free to go where he wants," Sow said. "We have come here to protest peacefully, but the police have prevented us from coming and that's not normal."

Others say that protests have been banned downtown because they disturb the workday in the city's economic hub.

"I can't understand the protests here," said Boubacar Sow, 27, who works in the Dakar's large informal sector and is not related to Amadou. "Because, me, I come here to work, to earn money, and to return home, but not to protest. I work here.

"We are here to protest Wade," said Abdoulaye Diouf, a 22-year-old student. "We dont want him anymore. We are fed up "

Some protesters are also demanding that the Constitutional Council allow three independent candidates, including Grammy-winning musician Youssou N'Dour, to seek the presidency.

The court rejected their candidacies last month in the same ruling that granted Wade and 13 others spots on the February ballot.

It ruled that the three rejected candidates had failed to gather 10,000 valid signatures.

The opposition June 23 Movement, or M23, is named after the date of protests last summer that forced Wade to withdraw a constitutional amendment that would have nearly guaranteed his victory in this month's election.

West Africa has a history of political strife, but Senegal has largely maintained peace and has never experienced a military coup.

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