Senegalese police abruptly ended opposition leader Ousmane Sonko’s march across the country on Sunday by arresting him in the south and forcibly returning him to Dakar, the authorities said.
Interior Minister Antoine Diome cited the clashes between Mr. Sonko’s supporters and the police that had accompanied the opponent’s return to Dakar in convoy by road since Friday, in which one man was killed.
“A man was killed in Kolda. Is the state going to stand idly by (…) the answer can only be no”, said the minister on state television.
He argued that Mr. Sonko should have requested prior authorisation before organising what he called a “freedom caravan”.
“We were, therefore, able to escort the leader of the Pastef (party) (Mr Sonko) to his home (in Dakar) where he was dropped off”, he said.
A source close to the authorities said that Ousmane Sonko had been arrested near Koungheul by the gendarmes and taken back to the capital by them.
The Interior Minister reported that weapons had been found in the vehicle carrying Mr Sonko.
The fate of the opposition politician, who has been engaged in a tug-of-war with the government for two years with a view to the 2024 presidential election, had been the subject of speculation for several hours.
Ousmane Sonko, a declared presidential candidate but threatened with ineligibility by legal cases that he denounces as a plot by the state, has not given any public news since Sunday morning. His party has declared him “untraceable and unreachable”.
On Friday, he set off on a march back to Dakar in the south of the country, in what he hoped would be a show of force. The convoy drew crowds of enthusiastic young supporters and was marred by clashes between youths and security forces, in which one man was killed.
While Mr Sonko likes to document his actions live on social networks and did so for the first two days of his trip, he stopped doing so on Sunday.
The mobilisation of Mr Sonko’s supporters around him has regularly given rise to incidents and disturbances.
In 2021, he was arrested in Dakar on his way to a judge’s summons in a rape case. His arrest helped trigger several days of rioting that killed at least a dozen people.
On 1 June, a criminal court is due to deliver a long-awaited verdict against him in the same alleged rape case. He has refused to appear, claiming that the government is plotting to keep him out of the presidential election. In addition to a possible conviction, he risks losing his right to stand for election.