Senegal arrests 15 before anti-government protest

Senegal arrests 15 before anti-government protest Dakar (Senegal): Senegal's government said it had foiled an attempted coup just hours before anti-government protests were set to begin on Saturday by arresting 15 people who had planned attacks across the capital.

Justice Minister Cheikh Tidiane Sy announced on state television late Friday that the suspects wanted to target various sites including downtown's bustling Sandaga Market.

"The state prosecutor decided to nip the coup plot in the bud by arresting those individuals identified as members of the plot," he said.

Popular frustration has been mounting in the moderate West African nation because of daily power cuts and rising costs. There is also growing discontent over octogenarian President Abdoulaye Wade's attempt to run for a third term next year, as well as the increasing influence of his son, Karim.

A sit-in at Dakar's Place de l'Independance drew between 1,000 and 2,000 demonstrators on Saturday, primarily young men.

"We want things to go boom like in those other countries up there. We want the world to know that things aren't working in Senegal. The power cuts are getting worse and worse. Everything is expensive," said 27-year-old college student Hilais Gomis.

"We want Wade to know that the people want change and that we aren't going to wait indefinitely. We are putting Wade on notice. If we need to use force, we will," added Abybibou Kane, 40, a lawyer who came from about 30 miles (50 kilometres) outside Dakar for the sit-in.

Presidential spokesman Serigne Mbacke Ndiaye said that the protests "are a form of democratic expression."

"They show the vitality of Senegal's democracy. The important thing is that they take place in peace and security," he said.

Though today's demonstrations did not reach anywhere near the magnitude of those sweeping North Africa, they could prove a telling test of support for the country's fractured opposition ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

The sit-in ended on schedule at 1 pm, with straggling demonstrators burning a large photo of Wade and throwing stones at steadily advancing riot police as they left. There were no clashes between police and the protesters.

More demonstrations were planned in Dakar throughout the afternoon, including separate marches by both the leading opposition coalition and the president's political party and an anti-government rally organised by a rapper-led movement called "We've had enough."