Senegal President urged to renounce new term

The shelved election law changes would have added a vice president to the presidential ticket.

Dakar: Opposition and civil groups urged Senegal`s President Abdoulaye Wade on Friday to give up on another term after the biggest protests of his rule forced him to back down on changing the election laws.

Wade dropped the proposed revisions as nationwide protests turned to riots in the capital Dakar that left more than 100 people injured -- the largest demonstrations since the 85-year-old President took power in 2000.

Even some observers from his own camp concede that Wade`s climbdown has left him weakened ahead of Presidential Elections due in February next year. He has already said he would be seeking a third term.

But his critics insist that is unacceptable.

"There remains a final battle to be fought and won: that President Abdoulaye Wade does not try to impose his candidature in 2012," said a coalition of opposition and civil society groups.

This would be "illegal, illegitimate, inopportune and dangerous for peace and stability in Senegal and the sub-region," said the coalition, which led Thursday`s protests.

Although only two successive presidential terms are allowed, Wade`s party has argued that this should be counted only from 2007 when a constitutional revision dropped the presidential term from seven years to five.

The shelved election law changes would have added a vice president to the presidential ticket for next year`s polls, and dropped the winning threshold for a first-round victory to 25 percent of votes from the current 50 percent.

Wade`s critics saw the measures as a scheme by the President to avoid a second round of voting and line up his 42-year-old son Karim Wade, already a government minister, for succession.

Wade has repeatedly rejected claims that he`s grooming his son.

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of protesters, some hurling stones, who gathered outside the Parliament building on Thursday as the Assembly debated the proposed revisions.

Vehicles, buildings and some officials` residences were attacked and torched in the capital.

Scores more people took to the streets in major cities, burning tyres and brandishing slogans that read "Don`t Touch My Constitution" and "Senegal is not a kingdom but a republic".

As the unrest built, Justice Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy told lawmakers inside the chamber that the President had "taken into consideration your concerns" and "asked me to withdraw the draft legislation".

Police said they registered 102 casualties from the Dakar protests, including 13 policemen. Two demonstrators were shot, a spokesman added, without making clear who had opened fire.

Human Rights Watch said youth brigades from Wade`s political party targeted and brutally beat two rights activists during the demonstrations.

Alione Tine and Oumar Diallo were hospitalised after other demonstrators rescued them from the pro-government mob, the group said in statement on Thursday.

A coalition statement said it was regrettable "that it had to take a day of fire and bloodshed, of suffering and violence to make President Wade and his government open their eyes to the reality."

One member of the government, speaking on condition of anonymity, agreed.

"Now President Wade must wake up," he said. "He is only listening to his son."

And another member of Parliament, also part of the ruling majority said: "What we have seen is a first step towards the loss of power."

Malick Gueye, another deputy with the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party, was also critical. Wade, he said, was surrounded by people telling him what he wanted to hear.

"(Party) Parliamentarians and activists are frustrated because they are pushed aside in favour of the flatterers," he said.

"If he does not take back control of the party, Senegalese may not vote for him in 2012 which could be difficult for him."

But the president of the national assembly, Mamadou Seck, insisted that Wade`s decision to drop the proposed changes showed he "is listening to the Senegalese people".

Bureau Report

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