By Spy Uganda Correspondent
A student was killed in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis amid Friday’s violent protests against the postponement of the presidential election, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
Clashes between security forces and protesters gripped Senegal’s capital and other cities on Friday, the first widespread unrest over the delay of a vote that many fear could lead to protracted instability.
In a statement, the ministry said it had been informed of the death of student Alpha Yero Tounkara and that it would be investigated, but denied its forces were to blame.
“The Defence and Security Forces did not intervene to maintain order on the university campus where the death occurred,” it said.
It was not immediately clear if protests would continue on Saturday. Further violent stand-offs with security forces will add to fears of democratic retreat.
Less than three weeks before the Feb. 25 presidential vote, parliament voted to push it back to December, sealing an extension of President Macky Sall’s mandate, which has raised concerns that one of the remaining democracies in coup-hit West Africa is under threat.
Sall, who has reached his constitutional limit of two terms, said he delayed the vote due to disputes that he said threatened the credibility of the electoral process, but some of the opposition have denounced the move as an “institutional coup.”
Some critics accuse him of trying to cling to power, while the West African bloc ECOWAS and foreign powers have criticized the move as a break with Senegal’s democratic tradition.
“Senegal has perhaps never experienced a crisis like the one we are experiencing and we must overcome it,” said Justice Minister Aissata Tall Sall. “We must calm spirits.”
In an interview on Friday, Tall Sall said the postponement was not the president’s decision but parliament’s. She also said legal challenges filed to the Constitutional Court did not fall in its jurisdiction.
“This postponement of the presidential election was done in perfect conformity with the constitution,” she said.
On Friday, the U.S. embassy in Dakar said the United States supported an earlier call from ECOWAS for authorities to restore the electoral calendar in line with the constitution.
“We have heard from a wide range of Senegalese political and civil society actors who share this view,” the embassy said in an online post.
The postponement bill was passed by 105 legislators in the 165-seat assembly on Monday after security forces broke up an attempt by a group of opposition members to block the vote and dispersed small-scale protests outside parliament with tear gas.
Thirty-nine lawmakers in opposition coalition Yewwi Askan Wi and several opposition presidential candidates have since filed legal challenges with the Constitutional Court.
Tall Sall said the court could not handle these because they did not fall in its purview. She did not say which legal body would look at the challenges, but said the fact opponents were turning to the courts meant “we are in a functioning democracy.”